September 11, 2012; Columbus, OH, USA; USA midfielder Graham Zusi (19) carries the ball upfield under pursuit from Jamaica defender Je-Vaughn Watson (15) during a World Cup qualifying match at Columbus Crew Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE
It was a must win for the United States and win they did, defeating Jamaica in the two sides' second match in just five days. Doling out a healthy dose of calm, possession soccer with a generous helping of attacking sharpness, the United States brought their point total to 7 points in their group, which makes them even with Jamaica as well as Guatemala.
A free kick in the 55th minute from Herculez Gomez was the difference maker for the stars and stripes, who were left shocked after their defeat to the Reggae Boyz this past Friday night. US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann opted to shake up his starting XI a bit for this one, namely on defense where captain Carlos Bocanegra returned at center-back, pairing with Stoke City newcomer Geoff Cameron, who combined to help the US keep a clean-sheet.
The US had more than their fair share of chances in the first half, but many were denied by the woodwork (3 out of 6 shots on goal in the first 35 minutes, in fact). Graham Zusi was a new feature for the United States, slotting into the midfield and providing a dynamic attacking option who certainly left his mark in this one. He too had a shot of his own, a blast from the edge of the penalty area in the 6th minute, that was denied by the cross-bar and sailed out of bounds.
Almost as important as Zusi were full-backs Steve Cherundolo and Fabian Johnson, who helped provide the width to the United States' shape that they so desperately lacked in Kingston on Friday. Both had close efforts on goal as well, particularly Cherundolo who had a shot denied in the 21st minute by both the post and by Jamaica keeper Dwayne Miller.
By the end of the half, however, the score remained tied at 0-0, despite the US' dominant 79% of possession and their plethora of attempts on goal. Luck was not on their side, but the second half held more promise for the boys in stripes.
Sadly for the viewers, the second half did not contain quite the same energy as the first. That could be seen visibly on the face of veteran Clint Dempsey, who was struggling with his match fitness heading into this match, and was quite clearly exhausted towards the end of the match. Even so, Klinsmann kept the Tottenham Hotspur starlet in for the full 90+ minutes.
With Jamaica capitalizing on some of the US' mistakes and generally winning back more of the possession, the Americans began to feel the weight of the match on their shoulders, knowing they needed a full three points.
In the 55th minute, Dempsey was brought down about 30 yards out from the Jamaica goal area. With a swift and accurate kick, Herculez Gomez brought the game right back into the home team's favor as his shot sailed past Miller.
By the end, it was Tim Howard who played the hero as well, helping to keep Jamaica off the board several times in the final 10 minutes. Overall, the US retreated back behind the ball after a Brek Shea substitution failed to generate much of a spark, never mind a second, insurance goal. Maurice Edu was brought on for the stellar Zusi to help keep possession and control the waning moments. Towards the very end, Jozy Altidore made an appearance as well, but it was the solid play by the US defense that made the most difference as they were able to close out the match without letting in a goal.
In the end, on the 11th anniversary of the events of September 11th, 2001, the United States clinched a vital win on the path towards the 2014 Olympic Games in Brazil. While there may still be some questions surrounding this US squad, the fact remains that they showed the resolve and determination that they needed to when the time called for it. And this win was well deserved.