By Paul Kennedy
As the seconds slowly ticked in stoppage time -- five minutes! -- in the minutes that followed John Brooks' goal that put the USA ahead Monday night in Natal, my thoughts turned to another U.S. defender, another corner kick, and another late goal that resulted in another improbable 2-1 victory.
It's almost a year to the day that the USA beat Jamaica, 2-1, on Brad Evans' goal two minutes into stoppage time.
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Like Monday's USA-Ghana match at the World Cup, the Jamaica-USA game was the opening game in a three-game series, the first of three qualifiers in 11 days that would break open the Hexagonal and propel the USA back to the World Cup for a seventh straight appearance.
And like in the USA-Ghana game, the Americans took a first-half lead in Kingston only to give it away late in the second half. It was the 89th minute when Jermaine Beckford scored for the Reggae Boyz on a header off a free kick. It was hardly the piece of beauty that was Andre Ayew's goal for Ghana Monday night, but as I remember it put the USA back on its heels. For all of a minute or two.
The USA could have settled for a point in Kingston -- where it lost to the Reggae Boyz nine months earlier in the semifinal round of qualifying -- and no one would thought twice about it. But the Americans raced down to the other end of the field and scored. After short corner between Michael Bradley and Graham Zusi, Bradley played the ball to Evans, who had come up from his right-back position and placed the ball inside the far post as he was falling to the ground.
The goal was the first of Evans' international career and may well likely be his last. He started five World Cup qualifiers, and the USA won all five, but Jurgen Klinsmann didn't select him to go to the World Cup. Evans is 29, so this was probably his best chance to go to the World Cup, but he did not lose his sense of humor, tweeting on his way home from the Stanford training camp, "You got off easy this time @Cristiano."
On Monday, Evans was watching at a pub in Tacoma, Wash., as the USA beat Ghana to set up its date Sunday with Cristiano Ronaldo in Manaus. The USA suddenly finds itself in a good position to advance thanks to Brooks, who is only 21 and just starting out his international career -- indeed, Monday's game officially cap-tied the Berlin-born defender who had played for both the USA and Germany at the youth level.
Klinsmann had termed Monday's showdown with Ghana as the USA's World Cup final and a must-win game, but that was before Portugal got trounced in Salvador. The USA could have been satisfied with a draw on Monday but after a couple of Black Star forays, it raced down and set up the winner. Like on the first goal against Ghana, the play began with a throw-in, played by Fabian Johnson to Aron Johannsson. They played a one-two and got a break when Johannsson's through ball hit off Jonathan Mensah as it was rolling out of bounds. You know the rest.
For the last 10 days, there has been a lot of talk about Klinsmann's comments in the New York Times that the USA could not win the World Cup. Klinsmann was derided for even making such a suggestion. Stephen Colbert calledhim Field Marshall Buzzkill.
The point Klinsmann was missing is that the foolishness it might take to think that they can win the World Cup is the same foolishness it took for the U.S. players to seek out a victory on Monday night when a draw, in the current circumstances, would have sufficed. There was no chance in their minds, not in Kingston and not in Natal, that they were going to let the disappointment of conceding a late equalizer stop them.
From beginning to end, through qualifying and into the finals, a World Cup campaign takes more than 23 players. Brad Evans is one of them and could watch admiringly as young John Brooks did on Monday night what he had done a year ago in Kingston. His reaction via Twitter? Two words: