U.S. shows mental toughness in scoring late winner against Jamaica

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jurgen Klinsmann believes the United States' daredevil escape Friday night can be a defining moment as he seeks to prepare the Americans for the World Cup.

Qualification for Brazil next year still needs to be clinched, but Klinsmann is convinced that the 2-1 road victory over Jamaica, courtesy of Brad Evans' dramatic late winner, will give his players a much-needed injection of belief in their ability to overcome adversity.

American hearts looked to have been broken when Jamaica grabbed a late equalizer. That merely set the stage for a final rally that took the U.S. to second place in the CONCACAF qualifying group.

"For every team, when you concede in the last minute and add another one, it helps them realize that if you get a knock you can correct it right away," Klinsmann said. "At least give it a shot. That energy they showed, that reaction, that is what you want to see. Every experience like that helps the players.

"It is a culture that you have to develop to have that belief. Nights like tonight show them they can do that."

One of the biggest challenges for USA ahead of any World Cup is finding ways to develop enough mental toughness to compete with the battle-hardened teams that have emerged through the tough European and South American regions. The reaction in Kingston, where the U.S. players refused to let their spirits drop despite Jermaine Beckford's headed goal with time nearly expired, was particularly satisfying for Klinsmann.

Midfielder Michael Bradley had a strong part to play in the deciding goal, driving forward and causing panic in a Jamaica defense that was still elated from believing it had rescued a point. Bradley had been a pivotal figure in the squad for the last six years and said afterwards that he understands the value of gaining experience during the process of qualifying.

"In an ideal world and as we move along we would like to have it where we learn how to win these games 1-0 and at a certain point to kill the game off by scoring another goal," Bradley said. "But we understand that you have to deal with the twists that come along the way. We still have a lot of guys that are young and are going through the process for the first time.

"On a night like this, it is important that we learn our lesson and learn our lesson while getting three points. That winning mentality is something that has to continue getting worked out."

Evans' strike more than two minutes deep into injury time was the latest qualifying-round winning goal in U.S. men's national team history. While it couldn't match Landon Donovan's extraordinary winner against Algeria at the 2010 World Cup in terms of importance, it is worth noting that without Evans' late winner, the U.S. would've entered next Tuesday's home qualifier against Panama sitting in a precarious fourth position in the group instead of level with leader Costa Rica with seven points.

The top three teams in CONCACAF qualify automatically for Brazil, while the fourth-place team would square off with New Zealand in a playoff.

Captain Clint Dempsey highlighted the importance of the defense becoming more solid, just a year out from when he hopes to be taking on the strongest attacking lineups on the planet. Asked whether the late dramatics will do the U.S. some good, Dempsey replied directly.

"No," he said. "What we learned is we have to be smarter about free kicks, we have got to be sharper about not letting them equalize, but at the same time it shows we have character."

More than at any other time in soccer, the World Cup is when character shines through and can mean the difference between success and failure. This U.S. team might not be the greatest American side ever, and there is much work to be done over the next 12 months.

Yet displays of fortitude could be taken as more valuable at this point in the cycle than spectacular goals or saves. There is some pleasing evidence that Klinsmann's men possess some of the intangibles that can make or break a World Cup campaign.

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