US wants to finish World Cup qualifying strong
There is little riding on Friday night's World Cup qualifier against Jamaica for the U.S. men's national team. The Americans have already booked their ticket to Brazil.
Don't try to make that argument to goalkeeper Tim Howard, though.
"I think we'd still like to finish top of the group. That's important to us. We did that last cycle and felt really good," Howard said. "It's also an opportunity to impress. It's an opportunity to be in front of Jurgen (Klinsmann) and the coaching staff."
That may be the most important reason for the U.S. team to show up. There are only five international fixture dates before the start of World Cup training in May, and while Klinsmann is starting to narrow down his potential roster, there are still jobs to be won.
"I always said the door is always open. Maybe there are some surprises still around the corner that we don't know yet," Klinsmann said. "I think we have a pretty good picture to understand where the players are at right now. We have an idea of how we want to plan the team for Brazil. But we still want to use those FIFA fixture dates to the greatest extent."
The U.S. assured its place in Brazil with a 2-0 win over Mexico last month, taking most of the pressure of its final qualifying games against Jamaica and next week against Panama. The winless Reggae Boyz are still mathematically alive, but they need to win their final two matches just to have hope of sneaking into an inter-continental playoff with New Zealand.
"We have to win," Jamaica coach Winfried Schaefer said. "There is no choice for us."
The U.S. already has set a record for wins in a calendar year with a 14-3-2 mark, topping the previous record of 13 wins set in 2005 and 2009.
"We're looking forward to the game, a sellout crowd, a great atmosphere, and like we've said, we want to finish off on a high note," Klinsmann said Thursday. "We want to go for six points in these last two World Cup qualifiers."
That's part of the reason he's brought a veteran roster to Kansas City. Seventeen of the 20 players on the initial training roster were part of the group that prepared for Mexico, and three more veterans joined the fold on Thursday to prepare for Jamaica.
Chris Wondolowski replaced forward Eddie Johnson, who strained his left groin in a training session on Wednesday. Johnson was scheduled for an MRI exam later Thursday.
Midfielder Brad Davis and forward Chris Wondolowski also joined the team. Davis played in Houston's scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night, while Wondolowski scored the game-winner and Goodson went 90 minutes in San Jose's 1-0 win over Colorado.
The injury to Johnson came after Klinsmann already had to replace defender Omar Gonzalez, who strained his left hip in an MLS game last week. He was replaced by Michael Orozco.
"We've had some setbacks with injuries," Klinsmann said, "but as always it is what it is. We make the best of it and we still have the same objectives."
The U.S. team is perhaps better suited to deal with the sudden rash of injuries than any other time in Klinsmann's tenure. One of his greatest laments when he took over the national team in July 2011 was the lack of depth throughout the roster.
Along with adapting to Klinsmann's style of play, that was one reason why the U.S. struggled early on, losing four times in his first six games. But the groundwork was being laid for what's turned into a strong World Cup qualifying run. The U.S. has won three of its last four matches in the hexagonal, including its dominant 2-0 victory over rival Mexico on Sept. 10.
"We always talk about the marathon in World Cup qualifying, and sometimes it goes down to the last game," Klinsmann said. "If you make it earlier, it's great, but there will never be a perfect two-year stretch in the process. There will be some defeats. We'll try out some things that don't work. But I think we've become much more consistent in our entire program."