The United States guaranteed that it will finish top of its World Cup qualifying group and completed a perfect home schedule with a 2-0 victory over Jamaica in Kansas City on Friday night.
Goals by Graham Zusi and Jozy Altidore clinched a fifth straight home win in CONCACAF's final qualification phase for the Americans, who didn't concede a single goal during that streak.
The U.S. had already clinched its spot in Brazil next summer, but by seeing off Jamaica's plucky challenge and racking up yet another positive result, the team continues to move in the right direction as it heads towards its seventh straight World Cup.
"We are focused and we will stay focused all the way to Brazil," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "We have got some good momentum, and we want to keep that going. We have made a lot of progress, but we want to keep improving."
One thing noticeable about Klinsmann since last month's qualification, sealed by a 2-0 victory over Mexico, has been his desire that the U.S. make a statement by securing first place in CONCACAF's six-team "Hexagonal." Friday's win completed that task as Klinsmann's men improved to 19 points, which is out of reach for second-place Costa Rica (15 points) following a 1-0 defeat to Honduras.
As the American players celebrated on the field in Kansas City, they had plenty of reason to smile. Doubts over Klinsmann's methods have long since been quashed, and there is clearly now a strong chemistry between the coach and his charges.
The satisfaction of a job well done was evident on the faces of players like Tim Howard, who at 35 might have played his final qualifying game on home soil.The U.S. will not play another competitive home game before the World Cup, although there will be a series of warmup games in late May.
The tournament itself always seems to creep up on the soccer world, and in sporting terms it is now just around the corner. Even though qualification success, no matter how stylishly attained, counts for no extra points next summer, there is definitely much cause for optimism surrounding this team.
The defense, once highlighted as a potential weak spot, has now played 535 minutes since it last conceded a goal on American soil. And with this win, the U.S. – currently ranked 13th in the world – continues its rise toward the top 10 after a disappointing 36th a year ago.
Even without regular stars such as Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Omar Gonzalez and Fabian Johnson, the Americans were too good for Jamaica, with the bottom team in the CONCACAF group unable to prevent its own World Cup dream from being officially extinguished.
Zusi, of Major League Soccer's Sporting Kansas City, broke the deadlock for the U.S. on his home field, sliding home the opening goal from an Alejandro Bedoya pass after 77 minutes.
Four minutes later, Altidore latched onto an Edgar Castillo cross for a simple tap-in that effectively put the result beyond doubt and let the celebrations begin. Like Columbus and Seattle before it, Kansas City and the Sporting Park crowd gave the U.S. a significant home advantage in what has become one of the storylines of the qualifying campaign.
Whereas strong support has always been in place for big games such as those against traditional rival Mexico, it is now to be expected each time the team takes the field at home in the final stage of qualifying.
Once derided for its lack of interest and passion, the U.S. now has a core of support as devoted as any in the world. And the signs are, that under Klinsmann, the team has grown into a unit well worthy of that loyalty.
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- Jozy Altidore