COLUMBUS, Ohio — The ball skipped off the crossbar, tapped the right post and rattled the left upright — an undesirable hat trick achieved in just 30 minutes of a crucial World Cup qualifier Tuesday night.
Bossy in all aspects but bedeviled by near misses, the U.S. national soccer team had its patience tested to the limits before Herculez Gomez shattered a scoreless draw with a swerving free kick in the 55th minute for a 1-0 victory over Jamaica.
“The first 30 minutes were outstanding,” Coach Juergen Klinsmann said. “The only thing that was missing was scoring goals. Posts, unfortunately, don’t count.”
From 30 yards, Gomez swerved his effort just inside the right post, breaking the tense atmosphere in front of 23,881 at sold-out Columbus Crew Stadium and relieving mounting pressure on a U.S. team heavily favored to earn a 2014 World Cup berth in Brazil.
The United States, Jamaica and Guatemala will take 2-1-1 records and seven points apiece into the last two matchdays of this regional semifinal round group. Two teams will advance to next year’s six-nation final round.
The Americans will visit Antigua & Barbuda (0-3-1) on Oct. 12 and host Guatemala four days later in Kansas City, Kan.
After losing to the Reggae Boyz on Friday, the United States ruled the night but was stymied by the framework, by goalkeeper Dwayne Miller and by several agonizing deflections.
Gomez solved the mystery with a wonderful strike — although he did receive help from Miller, who was slow to react as the ball streaked over the defensive wall.
“I got a little fortunate, but after all the chances we had in the first half, we deserved a little good fortune,” said Gomez, who, at 30, was a late bloomer on the U.S. scene and has scored three of his five international goals this year.
Gomez’s appetite for the game, and for scoring goals, has put him into Klinsmann’s good graces.
“When you talk about hunger, he’s probably a role model,” Klinsmann said. “This is something we need to develop even more in our team — that hunger to succeed, that hunger to score, but also that willingness to suffer” before the goals arrive.
Gomez received strong support from four players who didn’t start in the 2-1 loss in Jamaica. Danny Williams was placed in his best position — deep central midfield, after serving on the right side in the past — and controlled the tempo. Graham Zusi (University of Maryland) and Steve Cherundolo formed an effective partnership on the right side, and Jose Torres was poised on the left.
From the start, the Americans hoarded possession and manufactured opportunities. A goal, however, was elusive.
Zusi’s 15-yarder skimmed the crossbar. Cherundolo’s cross caromed off Adrian Mariappa and was touched off the right post by Miller. Williams pounded a 30-yard drive off the left post.
Reaching halftime at 0-0 was a victory for the Reggae Boyz, who sat back and absorbed enormous pressure while seeking to counterattack. The second half was more of the same: The Americans probed for openings while Jamaica bunkered and kept an eye on the clock.
“We’ve all played in games like that, where you have chances that don’t go in,” said Cherundolo. “Normally, it comes back to bite you.”
Gomez, though, seized the moment.
“Jose and I were discussing who should take it. That’s my distance,” Gomez said. Commenting on the scoring difficulty, he added, “I’ve always been told, as long as you create those chances, you are fine. I was calm, I was happy, I knew sooner rather than later, one was going to go in.”
Jamaica emerged from its shell and had multiple chances to equalize. Cherundolo cleared a cross at the back post in the 70th minute and Tim Howard made a diving save in the 80th.
“In games like that, you just have to remember, it’s going to come,” Howard said of the goal. “You know it’s going to be your night, you just have to keep going.”
U.S. notes: The U.S. team is 5-0-2 all-time in qualifiers played in Columbus and 6-0-3 overall. . . . To remember victims of the 2001 attacks, fans stood between the ninth and 11th minutes and waved American flags distributed before the match.
Spain opened the defense of its World Cup title with a 1-0 win at Georgia on Roberto Soldado’s 86th-minute goal Tuesday night, while England stumbled to a 1-1 tie at home against Ukraine.
Spain, the world and European champion, has won 23 consecutive qualifiers since 2007. Soldado scored off a cross from Cesc Fabregas.
Italy, Germany and Portugal all failed to impress despite victories on the second day of European qualifying.
France won, 3-1, at home over Belarus. France’s next qualifier is Oct. 16 at Spain.
In late games, Mexico was at home against Costa Rica, and South American leader Argentina was at Peru.
At Wembley, Frank Lampard converted a penalty kick in the 87th minute after Yevhen Khacheridi was called for a hand ball. Yevhen Konoplianka scored for Ukraine in the 39th minute.
Italy limped to an unimpressive 2-0 win over Malta, getting goals from Mattia Destro in the fifth minute and Federico Peluso in second-half injury time.
Germany won, 2-1, at Austria on Marco Reus’s goal in the 44th minute and Mesut Oezil’s penalty kick in the 52nd, beating its neighbor for the eighth straight time.
Portugal needed goals in the final 27 minutes by Silvestre Varela, Helder Postiga and Bruno Alves to beat Azerbaijan, 3-0.
Cristiano Ronaldo set up Portugal’s first two goals.