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Injuries, absences hurting USA squad

USA Jamaica
The United States face a must-win mach vs. CONCACAF foe Jamaica Tuesday night.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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COLUMBUS, OHIO

Several key players may be absent, but the opponent is the one that beat them just last Friday and the margin for error now is no thicker than a pencil-line. The United States men’s national team sees no cause for concern.

On the eve of a crucial game in its campaign to qualify for a seventh consecutive World Cup in Brazil in 2014, the US and its manager tipped off no angst about the rematch with Jamaica, a team which beat the United States for the first time ever in Kingston on Friday.

Players and coaches insouciantly basked in the sunlight washing over Columbus Crew Stadium during a light Monday afternoon workout.

When asked about pressure during a press conference ahead of the Tuesday night game, from which the US badly needs to gain three points, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann just smiled. "Pressure is always there in professional sports," he said. "That’s no problem."

Soon after, a Jamaican reporter wondered what would happen if the US lost. "Nah, we won’t," Klinsmann said, smiling again. "Don’t worry."

The reporter followed up: "But what if you do?"

Klinsmann ignored him and faced the room for the next question.

The inquiry was a valid one. If the US loses to Jamaica for a second time in five days, and Guatemala dispatches Antigua and Barbuda, as it doubtless will, the Yanks will be three points removed from the second and last place in their four-team group that will grant a place in the fourth and final round of World Cup Qualifying with just two games to spare.

Where they stand

The United States defeated Jamaica 1-0 Tuesday night to regain the top spot in CONCACAF's Group A. With two matches left, Jurgen Klinsmann's side are now level with Guatemala on points.
RANK COUNTRY GP P +/-
1 United States 4 7 +2
2 Guatemala 4 7 +2
3 Jamaica 4 7 +1
4 Antigua & Barbuda 4 1 -5
 

And following the disheveling 2-1 loss on Friday – a game in which the US looked flat and overmatched technically, tactically and athletically – its biggest issues don’t appear resolved. The US suffered from a dire lack of width and initiative, and struggled with the possession and pacing of the game – qualities most associated with Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, respectively. Both will miss the second game, as they did the first, because of injury. And Clarence Goodson, who was pivotal in limiting Jamaica’s chances from his place in central defense, is suspended because of yellow-card accumulation.

Other than the fact that this game will take place at home, there is no logical explanation to give cause for optimism.

And yet, the US deflected any talk of anxiety or nerves. "We’re trying to rid ourselves of any ideas or thoughts of what could or could not happen if we don’t win," said veteran right back Steve Cherundolo, who should return after missing the first game with a calf injury. "This is not the right time to push the panic button by any means."

The Americans seem to consider the comprehensive loss as an aberration of sorts. Howard described the two free kick goals that foiled him as "lightning striking twice."

"The field is going to be nicer and the ref can’t get any worse," added captain and central defender Carlos Bocanegra. "We're still so confident going forward to this game. If you look at the chances they had, they had two free kicks, one ball that dropped inside our six on a corner and a shot from distance. Other than that, they didn’t have any real danger. And if on one of our worst performances as a national team that’s all they got?"

Surely, conclude the Americans, they couldn’t lose again.

Several players argued that the absence of players is irrelevant. "You have to grind out results no matter if you have your best team or not," said forward Clint Dempsey. "During World Cup Qualifiers or any other competition you’re not always going to have a situation with everybody healthy. So you have to go through the ride, the rollercoaster’s ups and downs. You have to come together and get important results at home."

"It’s unfortunate," added Bocanegra. "It's something every national team has to adapt to."

Their optimism remains intact. And this can-do spirit has served the US well in the past. Recent landmark wins over Italy and Mexico certainly weren’t built on self-doubt.

No matter the challenges that face them on paper, no American let on to any fear about the game's outcome on Monday. But given the reality of their plight, the lack of crucial manpower, and the shrewdness of their opponents, confidence might yet prove to be mere hubris.

Amy Lawrence is a contributing writer for FOXSoccer.com who has been writing about the game since USA `94, covering the Premier League, Champions League, European leagues and international soccer.

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