Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
They say there’s no place like home. If that’s true, then there’s also no place like Crew Stadium for the United States men’s national soccer team.
The U.S. improved its all-time record at Crew Stadium to 6-0-3 with a 1-0 win against Jamaica in a 2014 World Cup qualifying match Tuesday. American forward Herculez Gomez struck a set-piece goal in the 55th minute to give the Americans a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard made one save to help keep a shutout intact for the Americans, who avenged their 2-1 loss to Jamaica on Friday in Kingston, Jamaica.
With the win, the U.S. moves into a three-way tie for first place in its World Cup qualifying group with Jamaica and Guatemala. The Guatemalans defeated Antigua and Barbuda Tuesday, 1-0, to keep pace in the group, from which only the top two teams can advance in World Cup qualifying.
The Americans will resume World Cup qualifying Oct. 12 with a game against the group’s last-place team, Antigua and Barbuda, in St. John’s, Antigua.
“I think first of all, we want to thank that (Crew Stadium) crowd out there in Columbus for their tremendous support,” U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann said after the game. “It was a tremendous atmosphere that pushed the players. All of us really appreciated that. It was fantastic.”
Crew Stadium was a powder keg and the U.S. came close to lighting the fuse numerous times in the first half. Chance after chance went just wide of Jamaican keeper Dwayne Miller’s goal.
American midfielder Graham Zusi set the tone for the first 30 minutes of the game when he clanked an 18-yard shot off the upper right corner of Miller’s goal, which was besieged in the first half.
All told, three U.S. shots caromed off the posts of Miller’s net by the time 30 minutes had passed. Other U.S. attempts whistled wide as the American fans standing on temporary bleachers waited to erupt.
Klinsmann said his team was unfortunate not to go in front in the opening half hour.
“The only thing that was missing there was scoring goals,” Klinsmann said. “Posts, unfortunately, don’t count.”
The American defense, led by captain Carlos Bocanegra, stifled the Jamaican attack in the meantime.
Jamaica was barely hanging on, but the Americans weren’t able to break through and the teams went to the half in a scoreless tie despite an 8-0 shot advantage for the U.S.
“We said at halftime, ‘We’ve got to keep pushing. We’ve got to force it,'” Klinsmann said. “You know, some moments you’ve got to force your luck and it came on a beautiful free kick from Herculez.”
Fans remained at a roar as the second half began and before long, the moment the entire stadium had been waiting for finally arrived 10 minutes after play resumed.
After the U.S. earned a free kick from about 30 yards out, Gomez stepped to the ball and bent his kick around a wall of Jamaican defenders. Miller made a full-stretch lunge to save the shot, but could only manage to get part of his left hand on Gomez’s rip from distance.
The white twine of the net rippled and Gomez had put the U.S. up, 1-0, to spark Crew Stadium to life.
“That’s my distance. I feel comfortable, you know, on the ball from that distance,” Gomez said. “You know, I think I got a little fortunate but after all the chances we had in the first half and all the times we hit the post, we deserved a little bit of fortune.”
From there on out, it was all defense for the U.S.
Howard and his backline of defenders managed to deal with Jamaica’s three second-half shots. In the midfield, Jermaine Jones, a dual citizen of America and Germany, pushed and muscled his way around the field to stop the Jamaican attacks. Jamaica never had a shot on goal.
In the 82nd minute, Howard skied to tip a seemingly threatening corner kick away from the mouth of his goal, and most of the 23,881 still in attendance roared with approval.
“Columbus – you can’t say any more about it,” Howard said. “We were talking inside – there’s no bigger home field advantage for us in America. You know, for whatever reason, they didn’t sit down, there were a thousand flags waving. It was really awesome so hopefully we have a lot more games here.”
Jamaica, nicknamed the “Reggae Boyz,” wouldn’t mount another serious attack.
After three minutes of extra time, Honduran referee Jose Pineda blew his whistle to end the game and send the packed stadium into one final frenzied cheer.
“Obviously, we are back on track,” Klinsmann said. “We know it’s not done yet. We know it’s down to the wire. That’s what World Cup qualifiers are about and we’re going to be very sharp going to Antigua.”