Following Loss in Kingston, U.S. Faces Test of Nerves in Columbus

The United States takes on Jamaica tomorrow night in Columbus (8:00 ET, ESPN2) and while, strictly speaking, it’s not a must-win game, it’s just about as close as you can get to one.

If the Yanks tie or lose, they’ll almost certainly need wins in their remaining two games—at Antigua and Barbuda and home against Guatemala—to avert the disaster of premature World Cup elimination.

Is coach Jurgen Klinsmann worried?

Here’s his reply, according to Yanks Abroad’s Brian Sciaretta, when asked at today’s press conference what it would mean if the U.S. lost on Tuesday night:

“We won’t. Don’t worry.”

Those words will take on an unwanted resonance if the U.S. does happen to lose tomorrow night, and based on the team’s dismal performance in their 2-1 loss on Friday in Kingston, they may not have been the best choice for his response. Because his team did not look good; in fact, they looked like they’re in trouble.

Of course, the change of venue will help, from the improved field to the home crowd, and Klinsmann is not likely to field three defensive midfielders in an all-but must win game, so there should be more creativity in the lineup.

But the U.S. is shorthanded, Jamaica has some skill, they’re extremely athletic, and they’re going to be loose and confident following their historic win on Friday.

This one won’t be easy.

Klinsmann has already said that Steve Cherundolo (calf) will be back in the starting XI, along with Carlos Bocanegra (healthy scratch), who will captain the team.

There should also be changes in midfield, with the possible inclusion of Brek Shea, who has looked good in training, according to reports.

But the absences of Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan (and the long-term absence of Stuart Holden) have exposed the U.S.’s lack of midfield attackers. Friday’s group of Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones were defensive plodders, prone to turnovers.

In addition to Shea, Klinsmann could bring in Jose Torres or Graham Zusi or Danny Williams. He could also (and we’d like to see it) move the dynamic Fabian Johnson from the backline to midfield. Dempsey is also a midfield option.

The problem with most of Klinsmann’s current midfield choices is that, except for Dempsey, they generally lack WCQ experience. They also haven’t played together as a group, and, in the cases of Shea and Torres, they’ve been maddeningly inconsistent.

U.S. fans would hate to see an untested combination fall behind early and have to chase the game in these pressure circumstances.

Highlights from Friday’s game here:

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