While the 2014 World Cup seems ages away, qualification began back in 2011. This weekend, however, the club campaigns across the globe were halted in favor of another round of qualifying.
With a vast number of countries vying for positioning in qualifying, most of the usual suspects won. Germany handled the Faroe Island 3-0. The Dutch downed Turkey 2-0. England silenced Moldova 5-0.
But on this side of the pond, the scores were a little fishier. The United States, figured to be the class of Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Football along with Mexico, dropped a difficult game to Jamaica.
After American soccer icon Clint Dempsey put the Yanks ahead less than a minute into the game, it seemed as if the U.S. would breeze to a victory. However, a lackluster attacking unit and a midfield that refused to show up for the game led to a Jamaican comeback, with the Reggaeboyz connecting on two second-half free kicks to pick up the come-from-behind win.
Jamaica now leads Group A with seven points through three games, while the U.S. sits in second, tied with Guatemala with four points. Qualifying for CONCACAF goes like this: The top two nations from three groups advance to form an automatic qualifying group. The top three teams from this group advance to the World Cup. The fourth gets put into an intercontinental playoff.
The reasons for the Yanks’ struggles in qualifying are pretty apparent. While they’ve done a good job reloading in the back four, the midfield is still a mess. No one has grasped the attacking duties for the team. Striker Jozy Altidore is still nearly invisible on the top line, not even compiling a shot on goal in his first two World Cup qualifying games of this year. Herculez Gomez has shown some promise in front of the net, but is still far too inexperienced to make a difference on the world stage.
As for the midfield — what was once considered America’s strength — turned into shambles over the weekend. It has to be mentioned that neither Michael Bradley nor Landon Donovan, two certain starters, were in action and Dempsey was rusty from a lack of matches.
Regardless, the replacements for the national team were useless. Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones act as statues in their defensive midfield positions, refusing to bridge the ball forward or push it out wide. While Kyle Beckerman looks like great company to a summer festival, he works a little slow to be an elite midfielder for the national team.
A lot of these issues would be fixed if Stuart Holden was healthy. An up-and-coming star for the national team in 2010, Holden’s soccer career has been put on hold as he battles back from a series of knee injuries. A slide tackle by Manchester United defender Johnny Evans injured Holden’s ACL early in 2011, and besides a League Cup game the following September, Holden has been out of action with further complications.
What Holden brought to the midfield was a link from the backs to the forward. He combined with Bradley in the center of the midfield, was a strong enough spine to control the middle of the pitch for large amounts of the game. With those two in the middle, Donovan creating space on the wing and Brek Shea emerging on the other wing, the U.S. had a capable midfield. But, without Holden, Dempsey has been dropping back back to help connect the defensive possession with offensive, leaving a gap in scoring that has yet to be filled.
With Holden’s future uncertain and the core players — Donovan, Dempsey and goalie Tim Howard — not getting any younger, the future looks bleak for the Yanks for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.