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USMNT starts fast, settles for a point in World Cup qualifier at Jamaica

United States 1, Jamaica 1

Tim Weah scores the opening goal for the U.S. against Jamaica during a qualifying match Tuesday in Kingston, Jamaica. (Fernando Llano/AP)

KINGSTON, Jamaica — In the quest for a 2022 World Cup berth, a U.S. national soccer team peppered with youth, skill and fearlessness has had to learn and grow with each match.

The big step it has sought is sustaining high-level performance over a short number of days and building the type of momentum — and lead among the regional front-runners — to punch a ticket to Qatar next November.

The 1-1 draw with Jamaica on Tuesday was not the encore the Americans were seeking after a rousing victory four days earlier against nemesis Mexico. But they did continue compiling points after a slow start to Concacaf’s regional qualifying competition, and with six matches left, they’re in good position to advance.

“We’re growing,” goal scorer Tim Weah said. “Consistency will come. We are all super young. It’s all a learning experience.”

The draw, coupled with Canada’s 2-1 victory over Mexico in Edmonton, dropped the Americans (4-1-3) into second place in an eight-nation tournament that, by the end of March, will send three teams to the World Cup and a fourth to an intercontinental playoff. The U.S. men have 15 points, one fewer than the Canadians. Mexico and Panama are tied with 14 points.

The Americans will resume qualifying Jan. 27 at home against El Salvador, followed by a visit to Canada on Jan. 30 and a Feb. 2 home game against Honduras. None of the venues have been finalized.

“We’re on the right track,” Coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We’re basically having to get the guys experience on the fly. It’s really learning as you go, and the guys have done a great job adapting.”

That said, in the wake of the 2-0 victory over Mexico in Cincinnati, the Americans were not thrilled with this draw. They were content with getting a point on the road — their fifth point in four away games — but also thought they should win this type of match.

“You could see it on the guys’ faces: They weren’t happy with the point,” Berhalter said. “That’s a good sign. It shows this group is highly motivated to win and has high expectations for their performance.”

Weah provided the lead in the 11th minute, but the Reggae Boyz (1-3-4) equalized 11 minutes later on an extraordinary goal by Michail Antonio. Both teams had moments the rest of the night at National Stadium, in particular Damion Lowe’s apparent goal for Jamaica in the 84th minute.

However, referee Juan Gabriel Calderón whistled Lowe for fouling Walker Zimmerman before heading the ball.

Calderon “had his eyes on it from the beginning of the play — thankfully,” Zimmerman said. “Sometimes you don’t get that call."

Especially on the road in the Concacaf region. There was no review of the call because Concacaf did not implement video replay for the qualifiers. Jamaican Coach Theodore Whitmore said he did not want to comment on the officiating.

The Americans were missing two suspended starters: center back Miles Robinson (red card) and midfielder Weston McKennie (yellow card accumulation). Aside from filling those voids, Berhalter stuck with the group that beat Mexico.

There was speculation that star attacker Christian Pulisic might start, but Berhalter said “he wasn’t ready. . . . We wanted to be careful with him in this window. We wanted to take the big picture into consideration.”

Pulisic, who scored the first goal against Mexico, played 24 quiet minutes against Jamaica after replacing Weah, who, Berhalter said, had run out of gas. Yunus Musah also left in the 66th minute with illness, Berhalter said.

The Reggae Boyz welcomed fans for the first time in two years, though strict pandemic guidelines limited attendance to 5,000, including a loud pack of U.S. supporters, in the 35,000-seat bowl. (The announced crowd was 4,100.)

With the Blue Mountains and foothills offering a spectacular stadium backdrop, DJs pumped reggae over the public address system at decibels probably audible in Aruba.

Once the match started, players could be heard communicating on the field, except when vuvuzelas — the scourge of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa — pierced the serenity.

The Americans went ahead on a well-constructed goal.

Weah used quick feet to combine with Ricardo Pepi, who returned the ball for Weah’s dash past Lowe. Bobby Decordova-Reid was turned around, allowing Weah to surge to the six-yard box and, from a tight angle, beat goalkeeper Andre Blake with a shot that caromed in off the far post for his second international goal.

Out of nowhere, Antonio tied it with a thunderbolt from more than 30 yards that took flight with great velocity and beat goalkeeper Zack Steffen to the upper far corner for his second goal in three appearances.

“The ball is moving,” Steffen said. “It was coming in fast. I don’t think I had much of a chance.”

Said U.S. captain Tyler Adams: “Amazing strike.”

Both teams threatened in the second half, and the match did not have the look of one that would end quietly.

After Lowe’s disallowed goal, the final whistle brought frustration for Jamaica and a barely satisfactory point for the Americans.

“We walk away wanting more,” winger Paul Arriola said. “We don’t want to just qualify; we want to be at the top of the group. It’s a point. We’ll take it.”

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