Losing to Jamaica in track and field is one thing. Losing in soccer, as the U.S. had in the teams’ previous encounter last week, was not acceptable. And so, in a World Cup qualifying match Tuesday night, the United States – buoyed by a loud crowd resplendent in red, white and blue – avenged that loss and pulled out a significant qualifying victory.
The 1-0 victory over the Reggae Boyz was not a dominating performance, but it was enough to move back into a tie for its group lead.
It was a Herculez Gomez goal in the 55th minute that was decisive. He curled in a free kick that sent the capacity crowd of 23,881 into a frenzy. There was the moment of silence before the game in remembrance of the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“That was an awesome homecoming,” Gomez said afterward, almost drowned out as fans left Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio chanting and cheering. “You couldn’t ask for more. The crowd was great, and the guys fed off of it.”
The U.S., which made five changes to its starting lineup from Friday’s 2-1 loss in Kingston, is tied with Guatemala (2-1-1) at seven points in Group A of the North and Central American and Caribbean semifinals. Jamaica (2-1-1) also has seven points but trails on goal difference.
The top two nations advance to next year’s six-team regional finals, which will produce three qualifiers for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
Seeking its seventh straight World Cup appearance, the U.S. plays at virtually eliminated Antigua and Barbuda on Oct. 12, then completes the semis four days later against Guatemala at Kansas City, Kan.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann celebrated the win — then moved onto the next hurdle.
“We know it’s not done yet,” he said. “We know it’s down to the wire. That’s what World Cup qualifiers are about.”
After hitting the frame three times in a dominant first half as goalkeeper Dwayne Miller made several sparkling saves, the U.S. went ahead following a foul by Rodolph Austin on Clint Dempsey. Gomez’s drive from 28 yards went over the defensive wall and to the left of a diving Miller, who was only able to lightly brush the ball with his fingertips.
“That was my distance,” Gomez said with a grin.
The instant the ball found the net, Gomez knew the gravity what it meant to his team’s qualifying chances.
“It was important for us to regroup after what happened in Jamaica,” Gomez said. “We knew it wasn’t our best performance, and we had to step forward and apply today. With the help of the crowd, we pushed deep and persevered. It wasn’t always pretty, but I think we did it very well.”
The rowdy, partisan crowd — exactly what U.S. team officials were expecting — chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” all night, but particularly while the American players came to the stands to thank them after the victory.