Nervous night: How the critical U.S.- Jamaica World Cup qualifier will play out

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Bruce Arena once famously warned that the dark day eventually will arrive. A time will come, he predicted with a certain gloomy resignation, when the United States will fail to qualify for a World Cup.

We are not there yet – but ominous shadows are creeping uncomfortably close.

In 90 minutes tonight at Crew Stadium in Columbus, the United States can sooth a lot of nervous tummies.  (Kickoff of tonight’s match is 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Stacks of facts from U.S. Soccer are here.)

A win from Jurgen Klinsmann’s re-focused crew – determined to wash away the sour leavings of a rickety 2-1 loss four nights ago in Jamaica – and the U.S. World Cup express is barreling right down the tracks once again.

But dare we think about the consequences of a loss? The less likely scenario – the United States is 8-0-3 in home matches against Jamaica and 5-0-3 in all matches at Crew Stadium – will not leave the U.S. chances completely abandoned along the interstate. But the pressure in two subsequent qualifying matches will be unlike anything the United States men’s national team has approached in more than 20 years.

Personally, I think everything will be fine in about 12 hours, as a sold-out Crew Stadium empties of satisfied, hoarse, red-clad Sam’s Army regulars.

“Celebratory Red Stripe, anyone?”

Width will be added, quite possibly with Brek Shea running the left channel in a return to a 4-4-2 (with Clint Dempsey as a second forward) or even a 4-2-3-1. Having gotten the wake-up butt in the behind, the Americans will press Jamaica early, confident that a fortified back line can adequately protect Tim Howard.

Possession will improve, although not a bunch. The difference will be in Jamaica’s shape and approach, one that will drop back a little more conservatively. The visitors can do so thanks to last week’s win, which leaves the Reggae Boyz positioned to be content with a draw.

In the end, the United States will re-join Jamaica atop the semifinal group with a fairly comfortable 2-0 or 2-1 win. With it, the United States will be reasonably well positioned to advance into final stage World Cup qualifying.

We’ll have plenty to say at ProSoccerTalk after tonight’s match. Meantime …

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