Preview: U.S. vs. Jamaica World Cup Qualifier

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From the September 9, 2012 edition

It’s a great time to be a Crew fan. With feisty forwards Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta in tow, Columbus has surged into playoff position and shows no signs of cooling down with the weather. But there’s another game in town this week for footy fans: The U.S. national team is hosting Jamaica in a World Cup qualifying match Tuesday at Crew Stadium.

As usual, it’s been a year of ups and downs for the Yanks, but new Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has his team mostly taking forward steps. The U.S. toppled Italy on the road this year and beat Mexico at the mile-high Mexico City stronghold Azteca Stadium for the first time. And though they struggled in a 0-0 draw against middling Canada and got reamed 4-1 by Brazil, they’ve showed their strength so far in World Cup qualifying.

That process continues this week with a home-and-home against Jamaica. The teams meet Friday in Kingston then face off Tuesday in Columbus. Here’s a breakdown of who to keep an eye on as the Yanks go back-to-back with the Reggae Boyz.

Forwards: Star striker Clint Dempsey, who recently transferred from Fulham to elite Premier League contender Tottenham Hotspur, could see his first competitive action since June in these matches. (And with Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley out with injuries, Dempsey’s talent and veteran leadership will be extra valuable.) On-and-off star Jozy Altidore will need to come up big, too.

Midfield: This is where the domestic league’s growth will be measured. MLS stars Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Brek Shea (FC Dallas) and Graham Zusi (Sporting KC) seem primed to make an impact.

Defenders: Longtime captain Carlos Bocanegra remains in the fold. Newcomer Michael Orozco Fiscal, who scored the game-winner at Mexico, will be in the building, too. And with players logging time in the top leagues of England (Geoff Cameron, Maurice Edu) and Germany (Steve Cherundolo, Fabian Johnson), the U.S. backline looks stacked.

Goalkeeper: As usual, Everton stud Tim Howard will protect the net. Tim Howard — you know him, you love him.