But then Brad Evans came up with a most unlikely goal. In stoppage time. Without looking at the net.
“It was a totally blind shot,” Evans said after he gave the U.S. a 2-1 win over Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier at Kingston on Friday night. “The only thing in my mind was turn and shoot. That was it.”
Just like that, the U.S. solidified its chances of qualifying for next year’s World Cup.
“I’ve been there a thousand times,” American goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “You feel as low as dirt. And then all of a sudden you feel like world-beaters.”
Starting a stretch of three qualifiers in 12 days, the U.S. (2-1-1) improved to seven points in the 10-game final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, trailing Costa Rica (2-1-1) on goal difference and ahead of Mexico (1-0-4) on goals scored. Costa Rica won 1-0 at home against Honduras on a goal by the New York Red Bulls’ Roy Miller, and Mexico tied 0-0 at Panama (1-0-3), which has six points.
Honduras (1-2-1) has four points and Jamaica (0-3-2) has two, with little chance of getting to Brazil.
Seeking their seventh consecutive World Cup berth, the Americans host Panama on Tuesday in Seattle, where Evans plays for Major League Soccer’s Sounders, then play Honduras on June 18 at Sandy, Utah. The top three nations qualify for next year’s 32-nation tournament in Brazil, and the No. 4 team meets New Zealand in a playoff for another berth.
“It’s a roller-coaster during qualifying,” U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said. “The main thing is to keep our feet on the ground and get a good result in these next two games and put ourselves in a good position to go into those last four games.”
In World Cup qualifying, the key is to win your home games and pick up points on the road. The Americans are 21-0-2 in home qualifiers since a September 2001 loss to Honduras.
Coaching his 28th game since taking over from Bob Bradley in July 2011, Jurgen Klinsmann started the same lineup in consecutive matches for the first time with the U.S. But three in a row won’t happen.
Jermaine Jones, the tough American midfielder, sustained a concussion when elbowed by Daniel Gordon during a corner-kick scramble early in the 56th minute, and Jozy Altidore walked off gingerly in the 83rd minute and pointed to his left hamstring, although it was unclear whether he was hurt. Midfielder Graham Zusi was given a caution for his foul 40 yards out that led to Rodolph Austin’s free kick and Jamaica’s goal, and he will be suspended Tuesday for yellow-card accumulation.
Altidore scored for the second straight game, putting the Americans ahead in the 30th minute with a header off Zusi’s cross. The U.S. had scored the first goal in four of five previous road qualifiers under Klinsmann but were only 1-2-1 in those matches.
It looked as if the Americans would drop points again when an unmarked Beckford beat Howard with a close-range header. In wasting an early lead during a semifinal-round loss at Jamaica last September, the U.S. allowed both goals off corner kicks.
But in the second minute of four minutes of stoppage time, Michael Bradley quickly played an American corner kick short to Zusi. He gave the ball right back, and Bradley faked around Alvas Powell and slid a left-footed pass to Evans.
Evans had his back to the goal with Beckford, O’Brian Woodbine and Gordon about 5 yards from him when he stopped the ball with his left foot. He then turned and kicked the ball with his right foot over goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts from about 8 yards, a shot that may have taken a slight deflection of the sliding Woodbine.
“Pure elation after the goal, for sure,” said Evans, who received a yellow card for pulling his jersey over his head. “I had no idea it was stoppage time.”
It was the first goal in 10 international appearances for Evans, a midfielder starting at right back. Evans got the start because Steve Cherundolo is resting after a knee injury sidelined him from December to April, and Timmy Chandler tore a left knee ligament last month.
“We were kicking ourselves for conceding the goal in the way that we did from a set piece,” Dempsey said, “but at the same time, I think we showed a lot of character getting the winning goal.”