WASHINGTON -- Tiny Jamaica, playing well above what its soccer lineage would indicate, got what it came to RFK Stadium for last night.
That was a draw, 1-1, with the U.S. national team in an important World Cup qualifier that many believed the Americans had to win for a psychological boost.
Jamaica tormented the Americans with speed, athleticism, poised defense all over the field and a greater apparent sense of mission.
In the end, the Americans just couldn't shoot effectively, again.
The point on the road moved Jamaica (3-2-3) closer to its first World Cup final-round berth and kept the surprising "Reggae Boyz" one point ahead of the United States (2-1-4) in regional standings.
The U.S. squad is still alive for a trip to France, but it must at least win one and tie another of its remaining three qualifying games to ensure getting to the World Cup final round next summer in France.
"Jamaica is a greatly improved team over the one we saw in Kingston [in March]," U.S. coach Steve Sampson said. "Even though it wasn't the result we were looking for, [qualifying for France] is still in our hands. We've just made it more difficult for ourselves."
Jamaican coach Rene Simoes, a personable Brazilian who wears a jacket with "Jesus Saves" printed on its back, said: "We won one point away. My record against a team a second time is good. We lost, 3-0, [to the United States] in 1994 and tied last time. I am very happy with tonight's result."
The draw touched off a loud celebration at game's end from the sizable, visible and audible Jamaican contingent among the 51,528 fans at RFK, as several U.S. players slumped to the ground in disappointment and frustration.
Although pro-American fans widely outnumbered and often outshouted the Jamaicans, American defender Jeff Agoos quipped after game, "I felt sometimes like I was in Kingston."
After a tactical, cautious first half in which Jamaica was content to control the ball and only occasionally thrust forward, the United States opened the scoring in the 49th minute.
Forward Eric Wynalda, driving toward the end line on the right, crossed the ball into the box. But the referee ruled that defender Ian Goodison handled the ball, which bounced into the box, for a penalty kick. Wynalda ripped the penalty kick in, low to the left of goalkeeper Warren Barrett.
After the game, Wynalda said he didn't think the hand ball warranted a penalty kick, although Simoes said "the referee was perfect on the penalty kick. I have no complaints."
Less than a minute after the penalty kick, Jamaica, which had scored only four goals in seven previous qualifiers, equalized on a a mix of luck and opportunism.
Agoos' soft pass into the middle for teammate Thomas Dooley almost indiscernibly deflected off Jamaican forward Paul Hall, right to unmarked forward Deon Burton, who, from 12 yards, rifled the ball low and in past the right of a diving Keller. He had little chance for the save.
For the most part, the first half was a cat-and-mouse game, with Jamaica's speed and strong defensive posture frustrating the Americans.
However, Sampson's 3-5-2 alignment, which his team had trouble executing several times before, also seemed a puzzle to many players. Passes and cuts were mistimed or imprecise, allowing the tightly marking Jamaicans, who covered one another well, numerous interceptions.
In the 37th minute, Sampson changed his game plan, replacing defensive midfielder Mike Sorber with D.C. United's Agoos, realigning the team into the 4-4-2 it clearly looked more comfortable playing.
Wynalda, who often looked rusty and tentative after a long layoff because of surgery, had rarely touched the ball up to that point, and his partner at forward, Ernie Stewart, had only slightly more frequent contact. The best first-half U.S. attacks came with about 13 minutes to go.
Taking a long chip from Harkes, Wynalda seemed to be looking from near the end line for a teammate cutting down the middle. But abruptly he tried to beat Barrett to the near post from about 8 yards, and Barrett dove for the save.
Midfielder Claudio Reyna had the evening's best attempt a minute or so later, spinning and firing a hard shot from about 13 yards that Barrett barely parried wide right. Reyna had been fed neatly by Ramos.
At the other end, Jamaica tried for breakaways, with Burton -- one of four Jamaican starters who grew up and play professionally in England -- a persistent threat.
In the 25th minute, he created a dangerous chance, a corner kick into the box that bobbled amid legs for what seemed an eternity before U.S. midfielder Cobi Jones bicycled it out to safety.
Jamaica outshot the United States 6-5 in the first half and 12-10 for the game. . Keller was credited with nine saves to five for Barrett.
NOTES: Jamaican fans arrive early. Some 90 minutes before game time, clusters of fans wearing green, black and yellow, some waving huge Jamaican flags, ringed RFK. Two U.S. women's national team players, Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy, were drawing long lines to their autograph booth before the game.
Pub Date: 10/04/97