Steady, now. That's the message from former U.S. international goalkeeper Tony Meola in between a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica.
The next one comes quickly – on Tuesday. The United States is tied for second place in the group, on four points, with Guatemala. Jamaica, with seven points, is top with three games left to play for each nation. A loss in Columbus, Ohio, would leave the Yanks third, a position that doesn't advance to the next round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
"It's a must-win, but I don't think it's a panic situation right now," Meola told Goal.com.
The United States lost 2-1 in Kingston after taking the lead in the first minute through Clint Dempsey. Jurgen Klinsmann mused after the match that maybe his team went ahead too early. The Reggae Boyz chipped away at a disorganized U.S. outfit for 89 minutes and claimed a first-ever win in the matchup.
"It was certainly a weird type of game," Meola said. "The Jamaicans – give them credit – they looked a little bit more intent on getting forward, they had confidence, and athletically they looked very good."
Jamaica scored both goals from free kicks. Midway through the first half, Rodolph Austin crashed a long-range shot through the wall – it took a deflection off Kyle Beckerman, who had conceded the set piece – and wrong-footed Tim Howard.
"There's not much you can do. You're dependent on that wall to take that particular shot and block it," Meola said. "Once you make a move in one direction, it's so hard to go back in the other direction."
On the hour mark, Luton Shelton careened a gorgeous free kick over the wall and in off the post. Like the first, Howard had no chance.
"That's a pretty damn good shot. If you're going to give them one, that's the one you want to give them," Meola said.
Maurice Edu conceded the foul that led to the second goal. The Stars and Stripes committed 16 total fouls, with Jermaine Jones leading the way on five. Edu was one back on four. Too many of those infringements came in prime set piece areas, according to Meola, who is in Columbus with Allstate's Good Hands FC program.
"More concerning is that is I think they had five or six free kicks that were potential straight shots on goal," he said. "They obviously have capable free kick takers that can make you pay."
A result in Columbus would nearly guarantee Jamaica a spot in the next round of qualifying. The Caribbean island has only participated in one World Cup, in 1998. The win against the Americans was Jamaica's first ever, with four previous draws against the U.S. in Kingston.
"Jamaica is playing with house money," the 43-year-old said. "They would have bought into this deal any day of the week before the tournament started."
Few predicted a Jamaican win, especially considering the form Klinsmann's squad carried into the first game. The U.S. has posted 1-0 friendly wins against Italy and Mexico – in Azteca Stadium, the first U.S. win on Mexican soil, no less – this year. A sparkling new, overarching attacking style may have yet to present itself, but the exhibition results were impressive in Klinsmann's first year in charge.
Now the results matter.
"For me, I'm not going to judge Jurgen Klinsmann on what technical theories and tactical theories he puts through, I'm going to judge him on if he wins or loses," Meola said. "He's had a year to get this team prepared for World Cup qualifying. Now it's time to do work. A loss isn't the end of the world, but you can't couple it here with another one."
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