KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Steve Cherundolo could just smell the difference.
The defender from San Diego walked onto the field Saturday at National Stadium and immediately noticed the pervasive smell of marijuana in the air. Clearly, the United States was playing on the road.
''We knew what was going on,'' he said with a smile.
The United States then held together under pressure, playing a lackluster scoreless tie against Jamaica and maintained its lead in the regional finals of qualifying for next year's World Cup.
While it wasn't a win, it gave the Americans another point on the road to the tournament in Japan and South Korea. In World Cup qualifying, teams hope to win at home and tie on the road.
''We have one foot in the door. We have to get the rest of the door open,'' U.S. defender Jeff Agoos said.
Plagued by a lack of speed, the Americans (3-0-1) managed little in the first 80 minutes, then pushed at the end.
Ante Razov's header off a cross from Jovan Kirovski in the 82nd minute was going in before goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts made a great save, deflecting the ball over the crossbar.
Claudio Reyna nearly scored on a free kick in the 90th minute but Ricketts got a hand on his free kick, the ball ricocheted off a post and David Regis' bicycle kick attempt on the rebound went wide.
''It's a great result,'' said Reyna, the U.S. captain. ''We're sitting pretty good right now.''
With six games remaining, including a Wednesday match against Trinidad and Tobago at Foxboro, Mass., the United States is first in the North and Central American and Caribbean region with 10 points.
Costa Rica (2-1-1) is next with seven, followed by Honduras and Jamaica (both 1-1-2) with five each, Mexico (1-2-1) with four and Trinidad and Tobago (0-3-1) with one. The top three nations qualify for the 32-team field for next year's tournament.
Five more points probably would be good enough to earn a fourth straight trip to the World Cup for the United States, which stretched its unbeaten streak in qualifying to eight games. The Americans have allowed just one goal in that span.
U.S. coach Bruce Arena had hoped his team could get a late goal, as it did in March's 2-1 win at Honduras.
''We were in position at the end to steal it,'' he said.
With roosters walking the streets outside, the near-sellout crowd of 32,000 arrived at National Stadium as much as three hours early for a reggae concert.
Jamaica, unbeaten in 51 consecutive games at ''The Office'' since November 1994, had the better of the play, using superior speed to create breakaways for forward Onandi Lowe.
While Lowe, Theodore Whitmore and James Lawrence stretched the U.S. defense in the first 30 minutes with quick runs, U.S. forwards Brian McBride and Joe-Max Moore did little and were replaced in the second half. McBride's best chance was pushed wide by Ricketts in the 15th minute.
On the hot and humid afternoon, even Jamaica slowed up after the first half hour, and the impatient crowd, almost all dressed in green and gold, whistled its displeasure.
''You can't play a high-paced game in this weather,'' Cherundolo said. ''It just doesn't work.''
The Reggae Boyz twice put the ball in the net, but both were disallowed for offsides calls that were so obvious Jamaica didn't even argue.
Jamaica had a great chance in the 63rd when Ricardo Fuller was isolated one-on-one with U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller following an awful pass by Regis, but Keller gave a hip fake and Fuller, who was at a sharp angle, kept dribbling and never got off a shot.
''That can't happen,'' Jamaica coach Clovis de Oliviera said. ''One clean chance like that, we had to shoot the ball.''
Keller, who has shutouts in his last four qualifiers, then made an excellent save from about five yards out in the 85th against Lowe, preserving the Americans' third straight scoreless tie in qualifiers at Kingston. The Jamaicans have allowed just two goals in their last 15 home qualifiers.
''Balls were popping up, hitting rocks,'' Agoos said. ''With the field, it's really more of a circus atmosphere than soccer game.''
Notes: In Saturday's other games, Costa Rica won 2-1 at Mexico -- Mexico's first loss at home since a 1981 exhibition game against Spain and its first ever home loss in a World Cup qualifier -- and Honduras won 4-2 at Trinidad and Tobago. ... Brad Friedel is expected to start in goal for the Americans on Wednesday. ... The Americans went straight from the stadium to the airport for a charter flight to Boston.
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