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USA struggles but clinches third straight Hexagonal title
by Paul Kennedy, October 11th, 2013 9:29PM

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TAGS:  men's national team, world cup 2014

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By Paul Kennedy

The United States clinched the Hexagonal for the third straight time with a 2-0 win over Jamaica on late goals by Graham Zusi and Jozy Altidore at Kansas City's Sporting Park on Friday night.

The difference for the USA has been its ability to hold service at home in the Hex. It took all 15 points at home with five shutout wins -- a feat it also accomplished in 2005 -- but the first hour against Jamaica was easily the worst home performance of the entire qualifying campaign.

LOCAL HERO. Zusi was an automatic choice on the right side of midfield through the June qualifiers, but Alejandro Bedoya has come along in recent months since his move to French club Nantes and started ahead of Zusi in the last two qualifiers -- for the deciding qualifier against Mexico and in front of Zusi's hometown fans against Jamaica.

Zusi came on for Landon Donovan after the break and scored the winning goal with a well-placed shot of a pass from Bedoya that deflected off a Jamaican defender.

Look for Zusi to return to the starting lineup Tuesday night against Panama in Panama City.

SUBS DELIVER. The competition for spots on the World Cup team has begun in earnest, and Zusi, Edgar Castillo and even Sacha Kljestan made cases for inclusion in the final 23 with their play off the bench.

Zusi would be considered close to an automatic choice, but Castillo and Kljestan are bubble players. Castillo, who has often been called into camp but rarely played, did what he does best -- cause trouble down the left flank from his left back position. He set up Altidore for the second goal and also did well to set up Zusi earlier. Castillo might aso start Tuesday as DaMarcus Beasley left the game with a hamstring issue.

Even though he's the only American to play in the first two games of the Champions League group stage, Kljestan wasn't even called in for the September qualifiers. But the USA took control after his insertion for Aron Johannsson that coincided with a change in formation from a 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 with Mix Diskerud playing behind Altidore.

Kljestan was also a bubble player in 2010 and wouldn't want to repeat the heartbreak of missing out on the World Cup again.

DONOVAN STRUGGLES. Donovan, who has been bothered by an ankle injury, had his worst game since returning the national team this summer and was taken off at the half.

Klinsmann said Donovan had trouble getting into the game but he wasn't alone in the first half. Klinsmann said the coaching staff debated whether to move Donovan up front but it decided to stick with Johannsson, who missed several chances in the first half.

Klinsmann talked with the LA Galaxy player right after the game and explained the substitution. "Anyone can have a bad game," he said. "No problem."


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