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Sep 11, 2012

Gomez helps U.S. avenge loss to Jamaica

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Spurred on by a roaring crowd decked out in red, white and blue, the United States used all of that emotion as fuel to pull off a significant World Cup qualifying victory.

The U.S. rebounded from a loss at Jamaica four nights earlier and moved back into a tie for its group lead by beating the Reggae Boyz 1-0 Tuesday night as Herculez Gomez curled in a free kick in the 55th minute.

It was a night when the only respite from the din from a capacity crowd of 23,881 was the moment of silence before the game in remembrance of the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"That was an awesome homecoming," Gomez said afterward, almost drowned out as fans left Crew Stadium chanting and cheering. "You couldn't ask for more. The crowd was great, and the guys fed off of it."

The U.S., which made five changes to its starting lineup from Friday's 2-1 loss in Kingston, is tied with Guatemala (2-1-1) at seven points in Group A of the North and Central American and Caribbean semifinals. Jamaica (2-1-1) also has seven points but trails on goal difference.

The top two nations advance to next year's six-team regional finals, which will produce three qualifiers for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

Seeking its seventh straight World Cup appearance, the U.S. plays at virtually eliminated Antigua and Barbuda on Oct. 12, then completes the semis four days later against Guatemala at Kansas City, Kan.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann celebrated the win -- then moved onto the next hurdle.

"We know it's not done yet," he said. "We know it's down to the wire. That's what World Cup qualifiers are about."

After hitting the frame three times in a dominant first half as goalkeeper Dwayne Miller made several sparkling saves, the U.S. went ahead following a foul by Rodolph Austin on Clint Dempsey. Gomez's drive from 28 yards went over the defensive wall and to the left of a diving Miller, who was only able to lightly brush the ball with his fingertips.

"That was my distance," Gomez said with a grin.

The instant the ball found the net, Gomez knew the gravity what it meant to his team's qualifying chances.

"It was important for us to regroup after what happened in Jamaica," Gomez said. "We knew it wasn't our best performance, and we had to step forward and apply today. With the help of the crowd, we pushed deep and persevered. It wasn't always pretty, but I think we did it very well."

The rowdy, partisan crowd -- exactly what U.S. team officials were expecting -- chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" all night, but particularly while the American players came to the stands to thank them after the victory.

The American players said they were thinking about the anniversary. Fans received small American flags to commemorate the anniversary and there was a moment of silence before kickoff.

Klinsmann spoke after the game of having New York City firefighters talk to the team on Monday night. He said one related calmly of what it was like that day at the World Trade Center.

"Everyone was aware," Klinsmann said of his players. "We all knew this was a very special day. The players were outstanding in how they handled it."

The 30-year-old Gomez, born to Mexican-American parents, grew up in Las Vegas and was a member of the U.S. team at the 2010 World Cup. It was his fifth international goal and second in qualifying this year.

It was a key moment for a U.S. team missing injured midfielders Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley. Failing to win would have put enormous pressure on the Americans to win their final two qualifiers this year.

"I feel comfortable on the ball, on a free kick, striking the ball," Gomez said. "Thankfully coach had confidence in me. So did my teammates. I struck it and it went in. I'm fortunate and happy."

While the U.S. dominated the first half with 79 percent possession, the Americans became disorganized in the final minutes when goalkeeper Tim Howard needed to push away Austin's shot.

Howard knew that the game would eventually tilt in his team's favor. The U.S. improved to 5-0-2 in World Cup qualifying and 6-0-3 overall at Crew Stadium.

"This is probably one of the best homefield advantages we have," he said. "We should play here more often."

Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore wasn't surprised that the Americans reacted to the patriotic, cheering crowd.

"It was a different U.S. team," he said. "They came out early and they were pressing us. We didn't get any time to play until the second half."

Friday's loss at "The Office" had been the first for the Americans in 19 meetings between the nations. Klinsmann responded with large-scale changes.

Captain Carlos Bocanegra returned and took over in central defense from Clarence Goodson, suspended because of yellow-card accumulation. Steve Cherundolo, recovered from a strained right calf, replaced Michael Parkhurst at right back.

Klinsmann changed most of his midfield, keeping only Jermaine Jones and starting Danny Williams, Graham Zusi and Jose Torres in place of Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu. Dempsey moved from midfield to forward and started alongside Gomez, with Jozy Altidore going to the bench.

Zusi, playing his first competitive match for the national team, was the lone U.S. starter from Major League Soccer. He glanced a shot off the top of the crossbar from 18 yards in the sixth minute. Then in the 19th, Cherundolo's shot bounced off the near post after Miller got a hand on the ball.

Williams, playing his best half for the national team, curled a 25-yard shot off a post in the 26th minute -- resulting in loud, prolonged groans from fans who stood and cheered for most of the game.

The U.S. outshot Jamaica 10-3, including 8-0 in the first half -- quite a turnaround from Friday when the Americans were outshot 9-7 in a match played on a field criticized by the U.S. players.

"We moved the ball around, played with great emotion, and we're happy to get the points," Dempsey said.

NOTES: Guatemala won 1-0 at Antigua on a 26th-minute goal by Carlos Ruiz. ... Mexico (4-0) became the first nation to advance to next year's six-team CONCACAF finals, winning 1-0 at home against Costa Rica in Group B on a 61st-minute goal by Javier Hernandez.

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