Juergen Klinsmann knew Graham Zusi wanted to play for the United States in front of his fans, so he told the Sporting Kansas City midfielder at halftime to be ready to enter the fray.
It turned out Klinsmann also needed a spark after a lackluster half against Jamaica.
Zusi provided it when he entered the game to a roar from the sellout crowd at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., on Friday night, and the Maryland alum quickly scored the first goal in what would eventually be a 2-0 victory that clinched first place for the Americans in their World Cup qualifying group for the third straight cycle.
“I told Graham, you know, ‘Be ready at halftime. You’re going to play in your home stadium. Don’t worry too much about it,’” Klinsmann said. “And he was part of creating more energy, creating more chances, and scoring that goal will be a special memory for him, absolutely.”
Jozy Altidore followed Zusi’s 77th-minute goal with his own just four minutes later, sealing the Americans’ fifth straight shutout victory on home soil in World Cup qualifying.
“You always want to be on the field,” Zusi said. “When I learned I was going to come out in the second half, I was pretty excited to get in there and try to make a stamp on the game.”
Klinsmann said his decision to substitute Zusi for Landon Donovan was “performance-based.”
“We spoke right after the game, and I said it was simply because we wanted to make a change,” Klinsmann said of his conversation with Donovan, “and you weren’t getting into that game the way you hoped to. And anybody can have a bad game. Other guys had bad games, too.”
The United States (6-2-1), which clinched its seventh straight World Cup berth last month, has 19 points in CONCACAF qualifying and a four-point lead over second-place Costa Rica (4-2-3), which lost 1-0 at third-place Honduras (4-3-2).
Jamaica (0-5-4), whose only World Cup appearance was in 1998, was eliminated.
Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Colombia qualified for next year’s World Cup, while England and Russia won and moved into position to clinch next week.
Germany (8-0-1) defeated visiting Ireland, 3-0, at Cologne on goals by Sami Khedira, Andre Schuerrle and Mesut Ozil to guarantee first place in Group C and reach soccer’s biggest tournament for the 16th straight time.
“The team showed from the first minute that we wanted to have everything sorted out,” Germany captain Philipp Lahm said.
Belgium (8-0-1) earned its first berth since 2002, winning 2-0 at Croatia on a pair of goals by Romelu Lukaku to ensure first place in Group A.
Switzerland (6-0-3) clinched Group E with a 2-1 victory at Albania on second-half goals by Xherdan Shaqiri and Michael Lang.
In South America, Colombia (8-4-3) trailed by three goals but rallied for a 3-3 draw at home against Chile to earn its first berth since 1998. Teofilo Gutierrez scored in the 69th and Radamel Falcao converted penalty kicks in the 75th and 84th minutes.
Fourteen of the 32 spots at next year’s tournament in Brazil are set. The United States, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Iran, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and South Korea already qualified, and Brazil gets an automatic berth as host.
In CONCACAF, third-place Honduras (4-3-2) won 1-0 at home against Costa Rica (4-2-3) on Jerry Bengtson’s 65th-minute goal and ensured itself of no worse than fourth and a playoff against Oceania champion New Zealand. The top three finishers gain automatic berths.
Mexico’s Raul Jimenez scored on a spectacular 16-yard bicycle kick in the 85th minute — four minutes after Mexico had allowed Luis Tejada’s tying goal — and El Tri (2-2-5) opened a three-point lead over Panama (1-3-5) for fourth with a 2-1 victory at Azteca Stadium.