KINGSTON, Jamaica – The bus carrying the U.S. men’s soccer team squeezed along narrow, abused roads, past compact shops with hand-written signs and homes packed together like shipping crates. The destination was a scruffy little stadium in Arnett Gardens, a tough neighborhood in central Kingston known to the locals as the “Concrete Jungle.”
As players spilled onto the rutty field for practice, police with ominous weapons stood guard. Worn billboards and, further in the distance, the Blue Mountains furnished a layered backdrop. Children gathered behind rusted fences and atop adjacent structures to gain view.
This is precisely what Coach Juergen Klinsmann wanted.
After two weeks in comfortable surroundings for training sessions and low-stress friendlies back home, the Americans entrenched themselves in this hard-scrabble port city. They arrived midday Tuesday, some 36 hours earlier than they would normally set foot on foreign ground for a World Cup qualifier.
“It puts us in the right state of mind,” said Klinsmann, whose team will play Jamaica on Friday night, the first of three qualifiers over 12 days.
The Americans (1-1-1) practiced twice at Arnett Gardens before gaining access to the main stadium in Independence Park on Thursday night.
The early arrival has allowed them to acclimate to the Caribbean heat and humidity. Not that their previous locale, Washington, was much cooler. But being on site, knowing “the way this place works, it can only help you,” Klinsmann said.
It allowed him and his staff to scout Jamaica’s 1-0 loss to Mexico on Tuesday. Another home defeat would, for practical if not mathematical purposes, end Jamaica’s qualifying ambitions midway through the final round. The Reggae Boyz are 0-2-2 and have just two home games in the second half of the 10-match schedule.
“They are climbing up the wall right now,” defender Brad Evans said. “They are fighting for their lives to get points. Coming off a real tough test against Mexico, it has got to be physically and mentally exhausting.”
The Americans lost here in September in the semifinal round, their only defeat against Jamaica in 20 meetings. But they say they are better prepared this time and motivated by the setback.
“We want to correct it,” Klinsmann said, “because it still sits in the stomach.”
The U.S. also has qualifiers Tuesday against Panama in Seattle and June 18 against Honduras in Salt Lake City’s suburbs.