Leave it to the hometown hero to save the day at Sporting Park.
Graham Zusi’s 77th minute strike allowed the United States to grab the wheel on an erratic match and steer itself to a 2-0 victory over Jamaica in Friday’s World Cup Qualifier.
Jozy Altidore added the second U.S. goal in the 81st minute, while Tim Howard stopped a late Theo Robinson shot to preserve the shut out.
The win, which gave them 19 points in the group, allowed the U.S. to clinch the top spot in the Hexagonal for this cycle thanks to a 1-0 Costa Rica loss to Honduras earlier in the day.
A capacity crowd showed up for the clash, which the U.S. entered confident after it booked its ticket to Brazil in last month’s 2-0 win over Mexico. But Jamaica needed three points to keep its flickering World Cup chances alive – a situation that could’ve made it an exciting game.
But excitement was in short supply in the first 70 minutes. A combination of the 4-4-2 formation Jurgen Klinsmann unfurled, along with a mix-and-match front five only served to stall the U.S. attack for much of the night.
For their part, Jamaica looked unimaginative in the U.S. end, as the likes of Darren Mattocks and Ryan Johnson struggled to find chances in the final third.
Mattocks earned a free kick in the 38th minute when Brad Evans fouled him right in front of the box. But the subsequent Rodolph Auston set piece strayed wide of the near post.
The second half saw Zusi enter the game for Landon Donovan, but his impact would have to wait as the U.S. continued to stumble the closer it approach the Jamaican goal.
As the game rolled along to the 75th minute, the U.S. attack began to pick up. With plenty of space to operate against a tired Jamaican backline, the hosts capitalized in the 77th minute. What initially appeared to be a stalled advance turned into a sterling opportunity when Alejandro Bedoya drew two defenders toward the near post before cutting it back for Zusi, who had the space and time to fire it through for the long-await opening salvo.
Four minutes later, the U.S. seized upon another mistake when Edgar Castillo pocketed a poor clearance, went forward, and played it inside for Altidore, who easily tapped it through to make it a two-goal advantage.
Castillo nearly made it a three-goal game when he tried to delicately push an Altidore pass into the net in the 89th minute. But he couldn’t settle the effort enough to keep it from clearing the crossbar.
Jamaica nearly found a consolation goal seconds before the final whistle when Theo Robinson nearly turned a harmless long ball into paydirt when he snuck past Matt Besler and ripped a point blank shot on Howard, who quickly denied him.
The U.S. returns to action on Tuesday when they face Panama in Panama City. Kickoff is set for 10:30pm ET.