United States 1, Jamaica 1
The volume at National Stadium had reached deafening levels in the hours leading to Wednesday night's 2006 World Cup qualifier between the United States and Jamaica. It intensified in the 49th minute when Ian Goodison gave the beloved Reggae Boyz the lead, and was reaching a crescendo in the closing moments as 27,000 gold-clad fans prepared to celebrate a first-ever victory over the Americans.
Then in the 89th minute, U.S. newcomer Brian Ching pushed the mute button on the festivities, and a stadium and city on the verge of bursting with joy fell silent. Ching's eight-yard strike gave the desperate Americans a 1-1 tie in the opener of their six-game, semifinal-round schedule and extended an unbeaten record against Jamaica.
"It starts us out on the right foot," said the Hawaiian-born Ching, who was making just his third international appearance. "We battled hard and it was a fair result."
Twenty minutes after the final whistle sounded, hundreds of fans remained in their seats, a few in tears and most staring at the pitch in disbelief, trying to understand how the Reggae Boyz had let a sure victory on a perfect Caribbean night slip away.
Both teams earned a point in the standings. But only the Americans were in a celebratory mood.
"We kept believing until the end because we played well the whole game," U.S. captain Claudio Reyna said. "We defended well, we created chances on the road against a good team in a difficult place to get a point. It's the least we deserved because we played a good game."
But the United States was running out of time when reserve Cobi Jones served a cross from the right flank. Landon Donovan collected the deflected ball between two defenders in the center of the penalty area and, instead of shooting, slid it to his right to Ching, who lifted a shot into the upper right corner for his first international goal.
Ching, a 26-year-old forward for the San Jose Earthquakes who is among the MLS goal leaders this season, was able to compensate for an inexplicable miss on an open header in the 63rd minute, three minutes after he replaced forward Brian McBride.
"Thankfully for me, I got another chance," he said. "Everybody thought [Donovan] was going to shoot it and I think he fooled them by passing it to me. It was a pretty open goal."
The U.S. team, which will resume play Sept. 4 against El Salvador in Foxboro, Mass., is 8-0-6 against Jamaica, including 2-0-5 in qualifiers. All four qualifiers played in Kingston between these teams have ended in ties.
All of Jamaica, it seemed, was anticipating a long-sought victory for the Reggae Boyz. Headlines in the local newspapers trumpeted their hopes: "Boyz Hunt U.S. Scalp," "Boyz Back in Business," "The Time Is Right!" and "Jamaica Look to Ambush U.S. at 'The Office.' "
Ear-piercing music vibrated through the stadium for hours before kickoff and local performers entertained the crowd.
"Coming to Jamaica is always enjoyable," U.S. Coach Bruce Arena said. "It's a festive environment, they love their team, they love the event. Sometimes these games are more life and death in other countries. Here it seems like it's a celebration of the game. I don't think I've seen too many places where the fans are better. They're terrific fans and terrific people."
With the crowd roaring, Jamaica dictated the pace in the early stages but didn't seriously threaten until the 13th minute, when Marlon King whipped an eight-yard shot narrowly wide of the right post. There were few, if any, cracks in the U.S. defense in the first half, but the midfield didn't display the same efficiency.
The U.S. squad began to work combinations well and send shots closer to the target. Reyna missed narrowly to the left in the 26th minute after being set up by McBride and DaMarcus Beasley.
The pace continued to pick up between the 30th and 40th minutes, and the Americans seemed one touch pass from a clear shot deep in the box. However, the closest they came to scoring was a miscommunication in the Jamaican backfield that nearly resulted in an own goal.
The relatively quiet end to the first half was followed by an explosive start to the second. After four minutes, Jamaica drew a corner kick when U.S. defender Eddie Pope knocked away Andy Williams's end-line cross. Williams served the corner kick to the center of the box, where Goodison beat McBride and directed a header into the far corner, igniting a delirious celebration on the sideline and in the stands.
The Americans responded with urgency, but couldn't get a quick equalizer. Their hopes seemed to run dry in the 85th minute, when reserve Eddie Lewis was unable to draw a penalty kick after colliding with goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
But Ching tied the match and deflated the Jamaican players as well as their loyal supporters. In injury time, the Americans actually had a couple of chances to win it.
"I think we got a little tired at the end," said Jamaica midfielder Andy Williams, who plays for the Chicago Fire. "You need to finish the game off, and unfortunately we didn't."
U.S. Note: D.C. United midfielder Earnie Stewart started on the right flank and played 68 minutes.