If you’ve been reading my stuff or following me online for the last couple years, you’ll know I’m a fairly ardent follower of the U.S. National Soccer Team. If the U.S. is playing, I’m in front of a television watching in some capacity.
With that said, it’s hard to find a super-compelling angle for tonight’s final home 2014 World Cup qualifier at Kansas City’s Sporting Park vs. Jamaica (6 p.m., ESPN). Even the usually hyperbolic U.S. Soccer Federation PR Department in their pregame media email is billing this match simply as a the U.S. putting “their perfect home qualifying record on the line.”
So yeah, there’s not a whole lot at stake after the U.S. clinched its World Cup place last month with another 2-0 win over Mexico.
That’s not to say the game isn’t completely devoid of meaning. Every time the U.S. is on the field together the next eight months in the buildup to Brazil coach Jurgen Klinsmann can learn something. Realistically, unless somebody scores an incredible goal or a player limps off with an injury (did I just jinx that?), few folk are going to remember this match outside the fans in attendance in Kansas City. There’s nothing wrong with that, it is what it is.
On top of that Klinsmann could put together a fairly impressive team from the injured players who won’t participate Friday night. That list includes Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Eddie Johnson, Fabian Johnson Omar Gonzalez and John Brooks. The Brooks injury is a bummer since a game with low-stakes (even if Jamaica has the slimmest of slim chances to finish the Hex in fourth) would be a perfect chance to cap-tie the German-born American to the U.S. squad.
Even if the U.S. wins both its remaining qualifiers to finish atop the CONCACAF Hex, the odds of earning one of the eight top seeds for the World Cup draw later this year are slim. Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl broke it down in detail earlier this week. If I read it correctly, about 58 different things need to break right for that to happen. As we’ve seen with the World Cup draw, anything is possible even if you land in the dreaded “Group of Death.” In 2010 the U.S. had a favorable draw with England, Slovenia and Algeria and needed Landon Donovan’s famous stoppage-time goal to advance. Reminder: don’t get hung up on World Cup seeding.
As for the actual game Friday vs. Jamaica, figure it’s the first chance to see Aron Jóhannsson play in a game that counts for the Americans. Players like Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya should get ample time to impress. Perhaps we’ll see if Geoff Cameron — he of bowling fame — is still a viable option at center back. We’ll also see if Jozy Altidore’s sputtering form at Sunderland, which isn’t entirely his fault, carries over to the National Team.
If Klinsmann wants to open a can of worms and draw some attention to this game, he’ll start Brad Guzan over Tim Howard in goal, which would certainly stir some debate in the U.S. Soccer community.
However you look at it, the biggest selling point for Friday’s game is the involvement of Ian Darke behind the mic for ESPN. Each passing day we’re one day closer until he’s no longer a part of our lives calling games on the Worldwide Leader.