You have to give the U.S. national team a C for effort in its crucial 1-0 win over Jamaica Tuesday night in its World Cup qualifying match in Columbus, Ohio. And also a G. The C is for crossbar; the G is for goal posts. In the first half the U.S. bounced balls off each part of the woodwork in a totally dominant performance over the Jamaicans in a game the Americans needed desperately. After losing to the Jamaicans 2-1 in Kingston four days ago, putting its World Cup chances for Brazil 2014 in some jeopardy, a win was almost mandatory.
But the first 45 minutes yielded no goals. FC Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi was impressive in his first start for the senior team, clanging a shot off the bar in the fifth minute. And Reggae Boyz keeper Dwayne Miller was magnificent in parrying a deflected shot on to his left post soon after. But Miller could only watch as Daniel Williams, one of three German-born Americans in the lineup—he plays for Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga— hit the inside of the other post with a blast in the 30th minute. But it was another let off.
In soccer, you often pay a cruel price for your lack of fortune—the other team gets one chance to score and buries it. But as U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said at the half: “Sometimes in life you have to force your luck.” Hercules Gomez, who plays for Mexico’s Santos, did exactly that in the 55th minute, when he curled a right footed free kick from 25 yards past Miller, who managed to parry the ball into his own net. It was an unfortunate error for Miller, who had been so good to that point. It was hardly a great goal but it was just reward for American industry on the evening.
A goal changes things. Jamaica quickly stepped on the gas and went on the attack. The U.S. began dropping deeper, even though they had shoved the ball down their opponent’s throat for an hour. It’s inevitable but dangerous, and yielded a chance for Jamaica on a 70th minute cross that had U.S. goalie Tim Howard screaming at his defenders.
The rest of the evening saw the Jamaicans trying to move forward, and the U.S. repeatedly squandering possession, but the win brought the U.S back into the race for a spot in the World Cup in Brazil. The Americans are now level on points with Guatemala and Jamaica on seven points: two of them will advance to the next round. But the Yanks are not making this qualification run look easy.