They play with a confident air these days, even a swagger, more befitting the Brazilians and Germans.

And, for the U.S. men's soccer team, that's good. Very good.

In the past, before Bruce Arena was their coach and they were ranked in FIFA's top 10, the Americans probably would not have had the moxie to come back and tie Jamaica in the final minutes of Wednesday night's CONCACAF semifinal qualifier for the 2006 World Cup.

This group has that resolve.

"We kept believing until the end," said captain Claudio Reyna, a former star at Virginia. "We played well defensively on the road against a difficult and good team and we got a point."

That point will come in handy in a group that also includes Panama and El Salvador. The United States should win the group and advance to next year's regional finals; the top two teams will move on.

In the finals, the challenge would be much tougher, with such dangerous opponents as Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago possibly on the horizon, plus the experienced Jamaicans.

Arena has instilled so much toughness in his team, and created so much depth, that the United States should be favored to get to Germany in 2006.

"Many of these players have been together for a while and they have grown together," said Arena, who took over a faltering program in 1998 -- the United States finished 32nd and last at that World Cup -- and has resurrected it. "They've learned how to succeed together."

Arena has won 49 games in those six years, and he has carried the U.S. squad as high as No. 7 in the world rankings. The Americans are currently tied for 10th.

Where they are beginning to make a real dent is up front, a place they often faltered under other coaches. Where the United States usually had one or two players with a knack for scoring clutch goals, they now have many: Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Brian McBride, Josh Wolff, Earnie Stewart and Reyna.

Now add Brian Ching to the list. In an inspired substitution against the Reggae Boyz, Arena brought in Ching for McBride in the 60th minute. Ching, in his third international appearance, headed the ball wide with an open net staring at him soon after entering the game, then produced the tying goal from close range in the 89th minute.

It was the fourth time this year the Americans scored in the 75th minute or later to produce a tie. Of their 16 goals in 2004, nine have come at 75 minutes or later.

"These guys never give up," Ching said.

-- From News Services