The USA breathes much easier now after beating Jamaica, 1-0, thanks to Herculez Gomez's free kick in the 55th minute Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.
Four days earlier, the USA fell to Jamaica for the first time ever, giving the Jurgen Klinsmann's men just four points after three games in their six-game semifinal round. Now, with seven points, they face Antigua & Barbuda (away) and Guatemala (home), so the Americans should cruise into the final round – the Hexagonal – of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. (Challengers Guatemala and Jamaica will take points from each other in their October encounter; the top two teams advance.)
TALE OF TWO GAMES. The Reggae Boyz’s 2-1 win in Kingston somehow failed to inspire confidence in the Reggae Boyz, who played scared – so meekly in fact in the first half it made it difficult to imagine how the USA could ever have lost to this crew.
The Jamaicans made it easy for the Americans, but for its part the USA passed accurately and moved fluidly around the field. (ESPN2’s stat-keeper put the U.S. first-half pass completion rate at 91 percent.) Klinsmann’s introduction into the midfield of the creative Graham Zusi and the sure-passing Jose Torres helped enable the Americans to dominate possession, of which they had much less after both were subbed in the 72nd minute.
The return of attack-minded right back Steve Cherundolo made a huge difference as he constantly unsettled the Jamaicans, while Danny Williams was a big improvement over defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman, for whom nothing went right in Kingston.
GOAL SHORTAGE. Frustrating was that the U.S. dominance in the first half -- in which they outshot the Boyz 8-0 -- didn’t result in a goal. Zusi hit the top of the crossbar and forced a magnificent save from keeper Dwayne Miller. Cherundolo also forced a super save from Miller, who deflected the effort onto the post. William’s 25-yard effort hit the inside of the post.
Not until Gomez’s free kick in the 55th minute did the Americans get on the board. It was enough, of course, because of how feebly the Jamaicans attacked. But one thing Klinsmann hasn’t accomplished in his 13 months in charge is creating a high-scoring team.
Only three times in 18 games under Klinsmann has the USA scored more than one goal.
HAIL HERCULEZ. The 30-year-old may finally have job security with the U.S. national team. Coming into the Tuesday’s games, his 15 appearances were spread over five years. He debuted for the “B” team Coach Bob Bradley took to the 2007 Copa America while still a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy and played two games.
Leading the Mexican league in scoring in 2010 – tied with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, then with Chivas Guadalajara – brought Gomez back in the fold and he came off the bench twice and started once at the 2010 World Cup.
Gomez, now with Santos Laguna, got his first call from Klinsmann in May and scored in a 4-1 loss to Brazil. He scored in the USA’s first 2012 World Cup qualifier, a 3-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda, and set up Dempsey’s goal in last Friday’s 2-1 loss. His goal on Tuesday marked his fifth for the USA.