The United States men's national team head to Kingston, Jamaica, for the final Concacaf World Cup qualifier of the calendar year on Tuesday with quite the opportunity ahead to close out the two-game November window on a high note. A perfect six points from six in this two-game November window would likely keep the U.S. at the summit of the qualifying table in Concacaf while also reaching a new level of momentum as the calendar soon turns to 2022, with the World Cup in Qatar merely 11 months away.
We're at the halfway mark of qualifying in Concacaf and while a win against Jamaica won't lock a spot up for the USA, it will greatly boost their already fantastic chances with six games to go. As always, Paramount+ is your home for Concacaf qualifiers, featuring select away matches for both the United States and Mexico men's national teams as well as the media rights to all other matches played in the region.
Kickoff for Tuesday's game is set for 5 p.m. ET at Independence Park, with pre-match coverage beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET on Paramount+ with studio host Kate Abdo and analysts Clint Dempsey, Oguchi Onyewu and Charlie Davies, along with Maurice Edu.
Craving even more coverage of the USMNT's road to Qatar? Listen below and subscribe to ¡Qué Golazo! A Daily CBS Soccer Podcast where we take you beyond the pitch and around the globe for commentary, previews, recaps and more.
Here are three things to watch entering the game:
Stay in front and press Jamaica's two biggest threats
Jamaica have some quality players, but there are two that are on another level. West Ham striker Michail Antonio and Aston Villa's Leon Bailey are expected to start and can turn a game in a matter of seconds with their individual ability to march toward goal and finish. While Antonio is also sharp at combining with his teammates, the two can stretch a team's backline via the flanks, and that U.S. defense will have to be ready.
Manager Gregg Berhalter told reporters during Monday's press conference that preparing for them is similar to what they had to do in preparing for Mexico's attacking talent, respecting them and knowing it will take well-timed tackles and pressure to put them off their game.
Bailey is a player who can finish from distance, while Antonio, a player who's versatile enough to play multiple positions, has the ability to beat you so many ways, including in the air on dead-ball scenarios. The key for the United States will be to close down quickly on Bailey with his shooting ability from the top of the box, while keeping somebody in front of Antonio as he can make a quick move to get in front of a defender and finish with class. Both can go one-on-one with defenders and make them look like amateurs.
Antonio, who was born in England and never got a decent shot at playing time for the Three Lions, had double-digit goals in the Premier League for West Ham each of the last two seasons and is on pace to score 20-plus this season, with six goals in 10 games.
There is a No. 1 goalkeeper
The summer fling for Matt Turner appears to be behind us. While Berhalter said that he doesn't have a problem rotating goalkeepers depending on the situation, he confirmed that Manchester City backup Zack Steffen will start against Jamaica after earning back his position for the 2-0 win over Mexico, making a couple really key saves.
Steffen was Berhalter's goalkeeper at the Columbus Crew, so there's history there. Berhalter told reporters that he understood why some would infer that Steffen is the No. 1 moving forward. His start and performance against Mexico was quite telling, and getting the nod again against Jamaica just backs it up.
Turner, the hero from the Gold Cup, has proven to be a star when starting, so having him as a backup that can provide some relief is quite the luxury. But barring any injury, and assuming his form continues, it's Steffen job to lose, again.
How to handle McKennie, Robinson absences
No Weston McKennie or Miles Robinson in this one due to suspension, and it seems like Berhalter hasn't decided just yet who will play in their place. For Robinson, who got a red card against Mexico, it will be either Mark McKenzie or Chris Richards playing next to Walker Zimmermann.
"The message to the team is everyone here is to contribute," Berhalter said.
Both McKenzie and Richards have played in qualifying, but one of the two will be tested in a big way in Kingston. McKenzie's dad is actually from Jamaica and.
As for the midfield, Berhalter mentioned Kellyn Acosta, Gianluca Busio or even Sebastian Lletget. It feels like if he wants to be a bit more cautious, it will be Acosta. If he wants to really push forward, Busio makes all the sense in the world. But how about Brenden Aaronson?
The talented winger spoke with CBS Sports in an interview you can see on Paramount+ leading up to the match. He said he likes to play centrally and have that freedom to roam.
"I really don't know what my actual position is, and I think the good thing about it is I can play many positions and I feel like I can do well at different positions," Aaronson said. "But for me, I think centrally, I feel like I can have more to say on a game. I think the position I play with at Salzburg, I have a lot to say in the game. I think that I can make runs, I kind of have, like, this more or less free role here to kind of roam out wide or come back and get in and just have a say on the game. But even with the national team, it's something different, you know, I go there and now, kind of, my back's to the sideline. But also with the national team, I can come down and get it and turn and I think my best game is when I'm between the lines and I can turn and drive at defenses and play the final ball or take the final shot. So, that's something I see that is probably my best skill set."
With the quality form we've seen from Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah, might we see Aaronson play center attacking midfield if the U.S. need a goal? Berhalter said it was unclear whether Pulisic would get the start, so there are a lot of variables ahead of naming a starting XI. Regardless of who starts or where, Aaronson is ready to do whatever it takes. If Pulisic can't start, Aaronson at left wing, like we saw against Mexico, is probably a good bet.
The expectation, ahead of the match, is for more of a traditional starting XI, but seeing Aaronson centrally, especially after his display against Canada in September where he scored the opener after starting the play in the middle, would be intriguing to say the least.