August 18, 2012
Home sweet home?
Jamaica's Ryan Johnson (left) challenges for the ball in front of the United States' Carlos Bocanegra during the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter-final football match on Sunday, June 19, 2011, at RFK Stadium in Washington. The United States won 2-0. - AP
United States wary of 'The Office'
for World Cup qualifiers
GORDON WILLIAMS, Star Writer
The emotionally charged atmosphere that usually boosts the home team is expected to favour Jamaica, but could backfire for the United States when the countries clash in back-to-back World Cup football qualifiers (WCQ) next month.
While the Reggae Boyz are almost guaranteed raucous support in Kingston's National Stadium during WCQ, and are likely to be embraced again for the first leg of the CONCACAF semi-final round match-up on September 7, the return game in Columbus, Ohio, four days later may not be so predictable for the Americans. September 11 is a date forever linked with the tragic deaths of 3,000 people after terrorists attacked the US in 2001.
Commonly called '9/11', the date has become synonymous with reflection, celebrations of bravery, sadness and even anger for many Americans. The key to the outcome of the match in Columbus could rest on how US players and supporters channel their energy.
"It's certainly an emotional day in America," admitted US captain Carlos Bocanegra after playing in The World Soccer Masters Tour exhibition game in Florida recently.
But first the US must travel to 'The Office', where emotions tilt heavily in Jamaica's favour. The Americans know what to expect.
"Kingston, the crowd gets rowdy," said Bocanegra. "It's a fun atmosphere though, you know. Everybody is out there early, the big speakers are going. It's a party atmosphere and I think if the Reggae Boyz are doing good, I think the crowd gets behind them and gives them a lot of energy."
Bocanegra is confident US supporters will respond positively in Columbus, despite the reminder of a tragic time in American history.
"I think we will have a big crowd supporting us," the defender said. "Everybody remembers that day. It's special in our hearts. So you know we'll definitely play with pride on that day."
However, some Americans worry it could turn sour for the US in the return leg. One former American star questioned why the game was scheduled for September 11, although the other teams in Group A - Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala - are scheduled to play on that date. He believes the emotions of 9/11 could unsettle the Americans.
"It's a little unfortunate that the day falls on 9/11 and it will be a distraction for us (US)," said Eric Wynalda, now a television commentator, after the World Masters game.
"I mean, that's a day that none of us, no American, should forget. So it will be interesting to see how the dynamics are once they get to that point."
Jamaica are hoping to finally end their winless streak against the US seniors, which extends 18 games since 1988 with 10 wins for the Americans and eight draws . According to Wynalda, the Boyz could surprise the US in Kingston because not many in the current American squad are familiar with The Office.
"That first game in Kingston is gonna be an experience for a lot of people," Wynalda said, "and if the United States doesn't have some good luck and have some good fortune it could be their first loss (to Jamaica)."
US players claim they will push to win both matches against Jamaica. They have won in unfriendly CONCACAF environments before, including 1-0 against Mexico on August 15, the first time US beat their arch-rivals in that Central American country. However, the Americans acknowledge the confrontation in Kingston will be testing.
"The first game, being away, is gonna be a hard game," said US midfielder Maurice Edu, who also played in the Florida exhibition. "We can't let the outside factors affect us."