KINGSTON, Jamaica — Clint Dempsey and the U.S. national team needed less than a minute to crash Friday night’s party at National Stadium, a distinctively Jamaican celebration of sound and soccer.
But the fastest goal in U.S. World Cup qualifying history was a distant memory by the time the Reggae Boyz completed a 2-1 victory to move atop the CONCACAF semifinal-round group at the midway point of the campaign.
The Americans’ early riff was drowned out by Jamaica’s jam session: free kicks by Rodolph Austin midway through the first half and Luton Shelton 17 minutes after intermission.
At the final whistle, delirious fans stormed the field and rejoiced over Jamaica’s first victory against the United States in 19 attempts. It continued a historic year for the island nation, which last month marked 50 years of independence from Britain and won 12 medals at the Olympic Games.
“They had a tremendous amount of energy and they deserved that win,” U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann said. “They were hungrier. They were more determined. What does it mean for us? We have to fix it now.”
And in a hurry. The sides will meet again Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio.
With Friday’s result, Jamaica (2-0-1, seven points) is first, followed by the United States and Guatemala (both 1-1-1, four). Antigua & Barbuda (0-2-1) is last. Two teams from the four-nation group will advance to next year’s final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Along with Mexico, the United States has been a regional bully for years. But the Americans now find themselves in an urgent situation early in the qualifying cycle.
“It’s not doom and gloom,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “It’s up to us to respond. We always have before.
“When you are us and Mexico, teams are gunning for you. It’s like [Jamaica] won the World Cup. You saw what it meant to them. Sometimes when you are on top for a long period of time, you forget that feeling of what it’s like to win a game that means so much. We’ll get back to those winning ways and we’ll have to do it quickly.”
The defeat came less than a month after the Americans had won in Mexico for the first time. But that was just a friendly, and with greater stakes in Kingston, the United States performed poorly for much of the breezy evening.
Gameday at National Stadium is part pep rally, part dance party, part concert. The sound system was set up about 10 yards from a corner flag on the edge of a running track that Usain Bolt and the Jamaican speedsters have scorched over the years.
A brass band, stationed in the end zone bleachers, and a symphony of vuvuzelas provided the in-game soundtrack.
Despite injuries to Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley and Steve Cherundolo and Klinsmann’s decision to sit Carlos Bocanegra, the Americans needed just 35 seconds to go ahead.
Dempsey gathered a deflection in the middle of the penalty area and scored his 28th goal in 88 U.S. appearances.
The previous U.S. record for fastest goal in a qualifier was 53 seconds by Dempsey against Barbados in 2008.
Jamaica’s disorganization drew groans from the audience, but the Americans failed to crush the Reggae Boyz’s spirits.
“We let them back into the game,” Dempsey said. “We gave them a free kick, they were able to score. We gave them another free kick, they were able to score. We shot ourselves in the foot by giving up free kicks around the box.”
Austin’s 22nd-minute free kick caromed off the wall and beat Howard to the right side.
Intermission failed to disrupt Jamaica’s confidence.
Howard was called upon to make a touch save and punch out two threatening crosses before requiring treatment for a collision with Shelton.
The Americans continued to concede too many free kicks, and in the 62nd, they were burned again. This time it was Shelton, who struck a 25-yarder into the left side of the net. Desperation began to set in for the Americans.
And when the game ended, the party rose another notch.