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USMNT World Cup Qualifier in Jamaica Will Be Played Without Fans

The U.S. men's national team will play its Nov. 16 World Cup qualifier in Kingston, Jamaica, behind closed doors, a government ministry announced Thursday, upsetting the national football federation while offering the Americans a slight boost in their quest to reach Qatar.

Currently in sixth place in the eight-team Concacaf Octagonal, which will send the top three finishers to next year’s World Cup (plus the fourth-place side to a playoff), Jamaica is the only entrant that still hasn’t played in front of its own supporters. On Wednesday, Jamaica’s Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development issued a decision stating that it considered allowing vaccinated fans to attend next month’s qualifier but ultimately concluded that, “given our delicate stage of managing the pandemic, as well as the extensive logistical inputs needed to ensure that only vaccinated persons enter the venue, it was simply not practical to give the green light for public access.”

The ruling means that the second-place U.S. (3-1-2) will transition from a full house at FC Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium, where it’ll face Mexico on Nov. 12, to an empty Office, as the Independence Park venue is known, four days later. The November qualifying window is the only one of five that comprises just two games.

USMNT faces Jamaica in World Cup qualifying

The Americans have a 3-1-5 record in Kingston dating back to their first visit in 1988. The most recent trip was for a qualifier in 2013 that was won, 2–1, on a stoppage-time goal by Brad Evans. Crowds can be a factor in Concacaf, as an inexperienced U.S. side discovered at El Salvador's cacophonous Estadio Cuscatlán in their Octagonal opener in September. The lack of atmosphere at The Office may sap a bit of intensity from the proceedings, which should benefit the visitors. The Reggae Boyz (1-3-2) lost to Panama, 3–0 and tied Canada, 0–0, in their previous two home qualifiers.

Confronted with playing a third home game without fans, a Jamaican Football Federation official responded with frustration late Wednesday and accused the government of sabotage.

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“Every other industry in the country is allowed to have their thing going, with customers coming in, but we cannot have anybody,” technical committee chairman Rudolph Speid told The Gleaner. “We are extremely disappointed as what they are doing is sabotaging the program.

“Home ground is suppose to give you an advantage. But when we play, it’s like we are training,” he added. “So it seems like it is only us under punishment as every other country is allowing spectators.”

El Salvador announced a plan to limit attendance at the Cuscatlán for the September game against the U.S. to 29,000 fans, but the 53,000-seat arena was full at kickoff. Costa Rica has been reducing crowd size at the Estadio Nacional in San José and allowed only 5,000 vaccinated fans to attend this month’s 2–1 win over El Salvador, up from 3,000 in prior games. Costa Rica has been the strictest Octagonal country after Jamaica.

The Jamaican government said it will consider relaxing restrictions ahead of the late January and early February matches against Mexico and Costa Rica.

In their first Octagonal showdown three weeks ago, the U.S. beat the Reggae Boyz, 2-0, in Austin behind two goals from FC Dallas teenager Ricardo Pepi.

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