KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Coach Jurgen Klinsmann knew Graham Zusi wanted to play for the U.S. team 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 match to a roar from the sellout crowd of 18,467 at Sporting Park on Friday night, and quickly scored the first goal in a 2-0 victory that clinched first place for the United States in its 2014 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.”
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Zusi scored in the 77th minute and Jozy Altidore added a goal in the 81st.
The United States (6-2-1), which secured its seventh straight World Cup berth last month, has 19 points in North and Central American and Caribbean 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), with one match left.
Jamaica (0-5-4), which made its lone World Cup appearance in 1998, was eliminated.
Klinsmann said his decision to substitute Zusi for Landon Donovan — the all-time scoring leader for the United States — was “performance-based.”
“We spoke right after the game, and I said it was simply because we wanted to make a change and you weren’t getting into that game the way you hoped to,” Klinsmann said of his conversation with Donovan. “And anybody can have a bad game. Other guys had bad games, too.”
Goalkeeper Tim Howard made five saves and posted his 33rd shutout, ranking second on the U.S. career list to Kasey Keller’s 47.
• Raul Jimenez scored on a 16-yard bicycle kick in the 85th minute as Mexico beat visiting Panama 2-1 to revive its hopes of qualifying for the World Cup.
• Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Colombia wrapped up World Cup berths.