|Fans show their colors for men's soccer on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. (Getty Images)|
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The fans carried Herculez Gomez, and he helped carry the United States to a significant World Cup qualifying victory.
The U.S. rebounded from a loss at Jamaica last week and moved back into a tie for its group lead by beating the Reggae Boyz 1-0 Tuesday.
Gomez curled in a free kick in the 55th minute for all the offense the Americans needed on a night of high emotion and red, white and blue support.
"That was an awesome homecoming," Gomez said. "You couldn't ask for more. The crowd was great, and the guys fed off of it."
After hitting the frame three times in a dominant first half as goalkeeper Dwayne Miller made several sparkling saves, the U.S. went ahead after Clint Dempsey was fouled by Rodolph Austin. Gomez's drive from 28 yards went over the defensive wall and to the left of a diving Miller, who was only able to lightly brush the ball with his fingertips.
"That was my distance," Gomez said with a grin.
He knew what it meant the instant the ball found the net.
"It was important for us to regroup after what happened in Jamaica," Gomez said of the 2-1 loss in Kingston on Friday night. "We knew it wasn't our best performance and we had to step forward and apply today. With the help of the crowd, we pushed deep and persevered. It wasn't always pretty, but I think we did it very well."
A rowdy, partisan crowd of 23,881 erupted into chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" on a night American players said they were thinking about the 11th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Fans received small American flags to commemorate the anniversary and there was a moment of silence before kickoff.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann spoke after the game of having New York City firefighters talk to the team on Monday night after dinner. He said one related calmly of what it was like that day at the World Trade Center.
Klinsmann said he did not need to remind the players of the importance of the date.
"Everyone was aware," he said. "We all knew this was a very special day. The players were outstanding in how they handled it."
Players circled the field after the game, waving to fans and raising their arms in celebration.
The U.S., which made five changes to its starting lineup, is tied with Guatemala (2-1-1) at seven points in Group A of the North and Central American and Caribbean semifinals. Jamaica (2-1-1) also has seven points but trails on goal difference.
The top two nations advance to next year's six-team regional finals, which will produce three qualifiers for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
Seeking its seventh straight World Cup appearance, the U.S. plays at virtually eliminated Antigua and Barbuda (0-3-1) on Oct. 12, then completes the semis four days later against Guatemala at Kansas City, Kan.
The 30-year-old Gomez, born to Mexican-American parents, grew up in Las Vegas and was a member of the U.S. team at the 2010 World Cup. It was his fifth international goal and second in qualifying this year.
It was a key moment for a U.S. team missing injured midfielders Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley. Failing to get three points would have put enormous pressure on the Americans to win their final two qualifiers this year.
"I feel comfortable on the ball, on a free kick, striking the ball," Gomez said. "Thankfully coach had confidence in me. So did my teammates. I struck it and it went on. I'm fortunate and happy."
While the U.S. dominated the first half with 79 percent possession, the Americans became disorganized in the final minutes when goalkeeper Tim Howard needed to push away Austin's shot.
Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore said he wasn't surprised that the Americans reacted to the patriotic, cheering crowd.
"It was a different U.S. team," he said. "They came out early and they were pressing us. We didn't get any time to play until the second half."
Friday's loss at "The Office" had been the first for the Americans in 19 meetings between the nations. Klinsmann responded with large-scale changes.
Captain Carlos Bocanegra returned and took over in central defense from Clarence Goodson, suspended because of yellow-card accumulation. Steve Cherundolo, recovered from a strained right calf, replaced Michael Parkhurst at right back.
Klinsmann changed most of his midfield, keeping only Jermaine Jones and starting Danny Williams, Graham Zusi and Jose Torres in place of Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu. Dempsey moved from midfield to forward and started alongside Gomez, with Jozy Altidore going to the bench.
Zusi, playing his first competitive match for the national team, was the only U.S. starter from Major League Soccer. He glanced a shot off the top of the crossbar from 18 yards in the sixth minute. Then in the 19th, Cherundolo's shot ended up bouncing off the near post after Miller got a hand on the ball.
Williams, playing his best half for the national team, curled a 25-yard shot off a post in the 26th minute -- resulted in loud, prolonged groans from fans who stood and cheered for most of the game.
The U.S. outshot Jamaica 8-0 in the first half, quite a turnaround from Friday when the Americans were outshot 9-7 in a match played on a field criticized by the U.S. players.
"We moved the ball around, played with great emotion and we're happy to get the points," said Dempsey.
Crew Stadium has proven to be a place of good luck for the men's national team. Playing occasionally in subfreezing weather in February, the Americans are 5-0-2 there in World Cup qualifying a 6-0-3 overall.
- Guatemala won 1-0 at Antigua on a 26th-minute goal by Carlos Ruiz.