It was not the best ninety minutes of soccer the United States has ever played. But in the end it was local Sporting Kansas City man Graham Zusi who lead a late US attack on his home field of Sporting Park and a 2-0 victory over Jamaica.
Jurgen Klinsmann opted to start the game in a less familiar 4-4-2 due to a rash of injuries to many of his first choice options. The initial results were mixed, with the US only have limited chances on the attack. Aron Johannsson's 20th minute shot following a brilliant touch to bring the ball down going well wide of the target being the USA's best chance in a rather listless first half.
In the second half, Klinsmann opted to insert Zusi into the midfield in place of Landon Donovan to start the second half, but it wasn't until his final substitution, inserting Sacha Kljestan for Johannsson and switching back to the USA's preferred 4-2-3-1 that the US attack really came alive. Substitute Edgar Castillo overlapping runs down the left flank began to open up the Jamaica defense and at that point it was only a matter of time.
In the 77th minute, Alejandro Bedoya made a great run down the right flank, and tried to center the ball to the back post, but the deflection off the Jamaican defender fell right to Zusi, who tucked his shot into the far post side netting past a diving Duwayne Kerr in goal. That gave the USA a 1-0 lead and demoralized a Jamaican side that needed three points to keep their World Cup hope alive.
Minutes later in the 81st, Jozy Altidore all but ended any remaining hope in Jamaica, tapping in a close range shot after a brilliant pass from Castillo as the Americans were in alone on the Jamaican goal. It was Altidore's sixth straight goal scoring as a starter for the USMNT. For Zusi it was his second international goal, and his first since the winner in a 1-0 against Panama in January 2012.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard, wearing the captain's armband in place of the injured Clint Dempsey, recorded 5 saves in the shutout victory and was aided with some scrambling defense at times, including right back Brad Evans clearing a loose ball inside the six yard box.
The United States remained on the top of the CONCACAF Hexagonal standings going a perfect 5-0 at home and a 6-1-2 record overall with 19 points. The USA clinched the top spot for the final qualifying round thanks to Honduras' 1-0 victory over Costa Rica, New England Revolution forward Jerry Bengtson scoring the winner at home for Honduras.
For Jamaica it was a valiant effort for the Caribbean underdogs, who have struggled to score goals during the Hex and today was no different. The Reggae Boyz three man, all-MLS striker unit of Darren Mattocks, Ryan Johnson and Deshorn Brown were unable to really test Tim Howard, despite a few good headers on target.
The United States closes out it's qualifying campaign in Panama next Tuesday in a match that Panama could need to secure qualification into CONCACAF's playoff berth with New Zealand. Mexico and Panama square off from Estadio Azteca later tonight, both are level on 8 points in the standings, with Panama holding the tiebreaker currently with more goals scored.
More from The Bent Musket:
- USA - Jamaica 2013 World Cup Qualifier - Lineups and Live Thread
- United States vs. Jamaica 2013 Preview: Opportunities Abound for Fringe Players Before World Cup in Brazil
- Rivalries and Regional Cups: A Roundtable With the I-95 Corridor
- The Failure of the MLS Disciplinary Committee
- Analyzing the Breakers' Home: What Do We Make of Dilboy Stadium?