COLUMBUS, Ohio — Everybody can take a breath now.
A 55th-minute free kick from Herculez Gomez earned the US national team a 1-0 win over Jamaica in front of a noisy standing-room-only crowd of 23,884 at Crew Stadium on Tuesday night, and put the Americans’ 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.
Last week’s dispiriting loss to the Reggae Boyz in Kingston seemed to put the Americans’ qualifying hopes in jeopardy, particularly if they weren’t able to get three points on Tuesday.
But they did. And coupled with Guatemala’s win in Antigua and Barbuda, the US now find themselves in a three-way tie with Jamaica and Guatemala at the top of Group A in Round 3 of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying.
US manager Jurgen Klinsmann made five changes to the starting XI and shifted the formation to a 4-1-3-2 in the hopes of creating more chances. The moves worked, as the US took the game to the visitors from the first kick.
The frenetic first half saw the Yanks outshoot the Jamaicans 10-0, outpossess them 80 percent to 20 percent, and strike the woodwork three times, but they could not break through. The combination play of Graham Zusi and Steve Cherundolo down the right side was particularly effective. In the sixth minute, Cherundolo fed Zusi with a pass and the Sporting Kansas City midfielder sturck the crossbar with his shot from 25 yards.
It was to become a theme. Cherundolo’s shot in the 20th minute, after some good interplay from Zusi and Danny Williams deflects off a defender and ricocheted off the post.
Ten minutes later, ball movement on the left side conjured up space for Williams in the middle. He stepped into a shot from 30 yards that looked marked for the upper left corner. But somehow, as if the soccer gods were cruel and unfair, the ball swerved at the last minute, struck the inside of the post, and rolled out of danger.
In the 33rd minute, Fabian Johnson slipped a through ball to Gomez. He was alone on the keeper but the assistant referee’s flag was up and the play was whistled dead. Replays indicated, however, that Gomez had actually beaten the offside trap.
After the break, the Jamaicans, who had sat back the entire first 45, came out with a little more zip, but to little avail. A few quarter chances missed the mark, and their defense became more desperate as they tired.
It was a sloppy tackle from behind on Clint Dempsey in the 54th minute about 28 yards from goal that set up the decisive free kick. Gomez, who had handled the set-piece duties all night, whipped his shot up and over the wall. Jamaican goalkeeper Dwayne Miller got a hand to the ball, but his touch was too weak to push the shot wide, and Crew Stadium erupted like it hadn’t since the US beat Mexico here on a cold night in 2009.
After the goal, the US seemed to pull back, cautious to hold onto the lead. The Jamaicans came close in the late stages through Toronto FC forward Ryan Johnson, but they never really tested goalkeeper Tim Howard.
When the final whistle blew, the joy and pressure release in the players was as palpable as the electricity in the stands. On the 11th anniversary of 9/11, it was as if fate had to pay back the emotion and the work and attacking style the US had put into the night and let everyone take a breath.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Herculez Gomez||Former MLSer put in the hard work all night and was finally rewarded with his fifth goal in a US shirt.|
|2||Graham Zusi||Who woulda thunk he could be the answer at right midfield? Arguably Yanks' most dangerous player.|
|3||Dwayne Miller||Despite his mistake on Gomez's winner, Jamaican 'keeper kept this one from being 4-0 or worse.|