KINGSTON, Jamaica A veteran, a star and a newcomer saved the United States against Jamaica on Wednesday night.
With the entire island nation ready to celebrate the Reggae Boyz' first victory over the Americans, substitute Cobi Jones began the surge to the tying goal in his 161st national team appearance. His long cross found Landon Donovan, America's premier player, in the Jamaican penalty area.
Instead of shooting, Donovan laid the ball off to Ching, another sub.
And Ching, in his third game for the U.S. team and first in World Cup qualifying action, sent a right-footed dagger into the Jamaicans in the 89th minute for a 1-1 tie.
''I was chomping at the bit to get in,'' said Ching, who scored his first national team goal. ''We battled hard and it was a fair result. It starts us off on the right foot.''
Until then in the World Cup regional semifinal qualifying game, Jamaica was delivering an emphatic message: Stay out of our office.
But the Americans have never lost to the Jamaicans, and at Kingston's National Stadium, known as ''The Office,'' they have produced four ties in qualifiers.
The United States, which was sloppy early, came alive after falling behind on Ian Goodison's second-half goal.
Still, the Americans couldn't find the tying score until the dying moments, when substitutes Jones and Ching came through.
''I missed one earlier,'' Ching said of a header from 6 yards that went wide. ''Thankfully, I got another chance after that. I tried to get a little too much on the header than I needed. I should've buried it.''
Much later, he finished.
''We played a good game and we deserved a point,'' captain Claudio Reyna said. ''We kept believing until the end, we played well defensively on the road against a difficult and good team and we got a point.''
In three previous qualifiers at National Stadium, all played in the midday heat, the teams played 0-0 ties. This time, before their spirited fans, many of whom began gathering outside the sports complex at noon for a 6 p.m. kickoff, the Jamaicans got off to a strong start with several dangerous penetrations.
But they couldn't connect in the first half, mainly because of sloppy passing or the outstanding work of Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Pope and Carlos Bocanegra on the U.S. backline.
The Americans weren't any more precise. Reyna had the best chance after a creative series of passes, but his left-footed drive from inside the penalty area went wide.
A defensive giveaway led to the Jamaican goal in the 49th minute and an explosion of sound by the yellow-and-green clad fans who've waited so long for their heroes to do something positive against the United States.
After Pope stopped the Jamaicans by heading out a dangerous cross, Andy Williams, who plays for the Chicago Fire, sent a corner kick into the goal area. Goodison headed it down and the ball skipped off the ground and high over goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
''We played well at moments,'' Williams said. ''It was a well-deserved goal.''
The goal set off the wave in the stands and waves of attacks on both ends. Brian McBride missed an excellent chance in the 55th minute, shooting high off a nice layoff by Donovan. Then, twice Jamaica penetrated Keller's territory, only to fail to get off a clean shot.
''You need to finish a game off and we didn't,'' Williams added.
Ching, one of the last additions to the team, went wide on that header with an open net in the 63rd, and Jones missed wide seven minutes later. Reyna headed over the goal in the 77th.
In the final moments, Eddie Lewis collided with Jamaica goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and both fell hard. Lewis got up immediately, but Ricketts stayed down for two minutes before resuming play.
Then the Americans tied it.
''This was a real test of our team,'' coach Bruce Arena said. ''We showed a lot of character and spirit and never put our heads down.''
Notes: Arena was denied his 50th victory as U.S. coach for the last six years. ... The United States' next game is Sept. 4 at Foxboro, Mass., against El Salvador. Jamaica plays Panama in its next qualifier. The top two finishers in the group after six games advance to the CONCACAF finals next year. ... Jamaica's roster included 15 players who play professionally overseas, with 12 in England (two in the Premiership) and three with MLS clubs. ... The Reggae Boyz are seeking to return to the World Cup after qualifying in 1998 and falling short in 2002.
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