If the U.S. men’s national team’s World Cup qualifying matches were tense in September, the team has even more pressure to deliver in October’s three World Cup qualifiers, beginning with Thursday’s match against Jamaica. That’s because this time the Americans will be playing two of the matches at home and the expectation is nothing less than a full six points in Austin and Columbus after drawing 1-1 against Canada in Nashville last month.
Home points are big in regional qualifying and the USA (third place, 5 points) will be the heavy favorite on Thursday against last-place Jamaica (eighth, 1 point), which could only muster a draw in its opening three matches in September. The Reggae Boyz will be desperate to pull off the upset win to revive their World Cup qualifying hopes with only the top three places guaranteed a ticket to Qatar 2022 (fourth place advances to a play-in match).
Jamaica will be missing a few starters for this one and their star forward, West Ham’s Michail Antonio, did not travel. They’ve still shown they’re a tough team to break down, especially on the road, as witnessed in their 1-1 tie in Costa Rica and their last-minute 2-1 loss in Mexico. The USA’s mantra for this camp is getting in behind defenses with early passes and breaking through the lines with smart movement and quick, vertical passing sequences. We’ll see whether they can pull it off against Jamaica.
WATCH: USMNT vs. Jamaica on fuboTV (free 7-day trial)
The USA is going to have to try to get results without two of their best players in Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, who are missing because of injury. Weston McKennie, who was suspended and dismissed from camp in September after breaking COVID-19 protocols, is back and will be starting. Valencia’s Yunus Musah, who’s now fit again, has also been cleared to rejoin team activities after following up an inconclusive PCR test with a negative one.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter still faces a host of big decisions as he navigates three games in seven days: Does Matt Turner continue to start at goalkeeper over the now-fit-again Manchester City shotstopper Zack Steffen? Does teenage forward Ricardo Pepi start again after starring in the last qualifier? Who replaces center back John Brooks, who was a late scratch from the roster — Mark McKenzie or Chris Richards?
These two teams have already met twice this year with the Americans winning both: a 4-1 friendly win and 1-0 Gold Cup triumph.
DECOURCY: Turner or Steffen? Why USMNT’s coach has no choice
How to watch USA vs. Jamaica
The World Cup qualifier between the USA and Jamaica will be televised in English (ESPN2) and Spanish (Univision, TUDN). Those networks are available to be streamed on fuboTV, which offers a free 7-day trial for new users.
The match will be held at a sold-out Q2 Stadium in Austin in the first USMNT match at the venue, which opened in June. The U.S. women’s national team played the first match at the venue.
USA vs. Jamaica: Lineups
It will create plenty of discussion if U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter opts for Zack Steffen over Matt Turner at goalkeeper. All expectations are that Chris Richards gets the start at center back alongside Miles Robinson, and that Ricardo Pepi retains his starting forward role after last bursting onto the international scene in Honduras. If Yunus Musah is not thrown right into the starting XI after needing a follow-up COVID-19 test, Kellyn Acosta or Sebastian Lletget would likely start in central midfield.
USA projected starting lineup (4-3-3, left to right): Matt Turner-GK — Antonee Robinson, Chris Richards, Miles Robinson, Sergino Dest — Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie — Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, Tim Weah
USA projected subs: Zack Steffen-GK, Sean Johnson-GK, Shaq Moore, DeAndre Yedlin, George Bello, Mark McKenzie, Walker Zimmerman, Gianluca Busio, Luca de la Torre, Sebastian Lletget, Cristian Roldan, Yunus Musah, Paul Arriola, Gyasi Zardes, Matthew Hoppe
The Reggae Boyz are shorthanded. According to local reports, they will be missing three England-based players because of injury (Brentford defender Ethan Pinnock, Reading defender Liam Moore and Preston North End midfielder Daniel Johnson), while West Ham’s Michail Antonio apparently pulled out after “a disagreement with the technical staff regarding his personal physiotherapist.” Jamoi Topey from local Jamaican side Cavalier FC was called up to replace Pinnock.
DECOURCY: USMNT’s best choice at forward is clear
The loss of Antonio, who stayed back with West Ham, is especially frustrating for Jamaica given that he’s been in strong form in the Premier League and was expected to give the Reggae Boyz an edge in the race for CONCACAF World Cup spots. But Jamaica is still optimistic: “We have enough quality in the squad to beat these Americans,” assistant coach Paul Hall told the Jamaica Observer.
Jamaica projected starting lineup (4-4-2, left to right): Andre Blake-GK — Kemar Lawrence, Damion Lowe, Adrian Mariappa, Alvas Powell — Junior Flemmings, Devon “Speedy” Williams, Jevaughn Watson, Andre Gray — Shamar Nicholson, Bobby Reid
Jamaica projected subs: Dillon Barnes-GK, Jeadine White-GK, Javain Brown, Oniel Fisher, Jamoi Topey, Tyreek Magee, Javon East, Jamal Lowe, Kemar Roofe
USA vs. Jamaica: Betting odds & prediction
Odds courtesy of DraftKings
Pick: USA -1.25 Asian Handicap (-140)
The USMNT is the overwhelming favorite to win the match and the only question is how many goals the Americans will score. The Jamaicans will play defense-first and when they’re on their game and goalkeeper Andre Blake is having a blinder, they can stymie the best teams (see the opening match vs. Mexico). They’ve also capitulated in other matches.
Even with a decimated Jamaica squad, it’s best to steer away from goal totals. Because the sides are unplayable, the focus turns to the spreads market. Seeking some insurance in case Jamaica has one of those games, the recommended play is the USA -1.25 Asian Handicap, which gives you back half your bet if the USA only wins by a goal.
Prediction: USA 3, Jamaica 1
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