The U.S. men's soccer team takes on Jamaica Wednesday night in Columbus, Ohio, in a match that is critical for the visitors. This is last of six group matches in the semifinal regional qualifying round for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
The Americans lead their group with 11 points from three wins and two draws and have already clinched a berth in the final round of qualifying that will take place next year. The other berth from the group is up for grabs. Jamaica has six points, Panama has five points and El Salvador has four points.
If the Jamaicans win, they are through, but they have never beaten the United States in competitive play. If they lose, the winner of the Panama-El Salvador game will advance. If Panama and El Salvador play to a draw, Jamaica advances no matter what it does against the United States.
U.S. defender Tony Sanneh told VOA Sports the Jamaicans are figuring they will need to win, so the Americans expect to face a strong attack. "They're going to come in a little desperate, I think, because they need to win and they need to score," he said. "That will actually benefit them, I think. They have a lot of experienced guys. Most of their team plays [professionally] in England. They're very athletic, very skillful, very direct, and we just have to make sure they don't start off on the right foot [take the early advantage]."
The 36-year-old Sanneh says even though this game is virtually meaningless for the home team, U.S. coach Bruce Arena's philosophy is always to win. And Sanneh adds that the players, especially the newer ones who have not seen much action, know they must do well to keep their places on the team. "When we come here to train everyone is playing to impress the coach, to keep their spot as a national team player, so it's a constant competition amongst us," he said. "I will say it's been a pretty positive training camp and we've worked pretty hard together and mostly the practices have been pretty high quality."
Besides the United States, Mexico and Guatemala have also wrapped up final qualifying berths from their respective groups in the North, Central America and Caribbean region. The other two berths will be settled from the matches between Costa Rica at Honduras, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines at Trinidad and Tobago.