Jurgen Klinsmann knew that Graham Zusi wanted to play for the United States 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 that Klinsmann also needed a spark after his team's lackluster half against Jamaica.
Zusi provided it when he entered the game to a roar from the sellout crowd at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., on Friday night and quickly scored the first goal in what would eventually be a 2-0 victory that clinched first place for the Americans in their 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."
Jozy Altidore followed Zusi's 77th-minute goal with his own just four minutes later, sealing the Americans' fifth straight shutout victory on home soil in World Cup qualifying.
"You always want to be on the field," Zusi said. "When I learned I was going to come out in the second half, I was pretty excited to get in there and try to make a stamp on the game."
Klinsmann said his decision to substitute Zusi for Landon Donovan was "performance-based."
"We spoke right after the game, and I said it was simply because we wanted to make a change," Klinsmann said of his conversation with Donovan, "and you weren't getting into that game the way you hoped to. And anybody can have a bad game. Other guys had bad games, too."
The U.S. (6-2-1), which clinched 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).
Jamaica (0-5-4), whose only World Cup appearance was in 1998, was eliminated.
"I told my players that the first 60 minutes, 65 minutes we were fantastic," Jamaica coach Winfried Schaefer said. "We just couldn't score a goal."
Zusi entered the game for Donovan and finally ignited the U.S. attack. He got behind the defense and picked up a crossing pass from Alejandro Bedoya, knocking the shot from about 12 yards past goalkeeper DuWayne Kerr and generating a roar from the crowd of 18,467.
Fans packed into Sporting Park had barely settled back down before Edgar Castillo, like Zusi a second-half substitute, found Altidore in front of an open net for another goal in the 81st minute.
In another match in the same group, Raul Jimenez scored on a 16-yard bicycle kick in the 85th minute -- four minutes after Mexico had allowed a tying goal -- and El Tri beat Panama 2-1 in Mexico City to revive its hopes to qualify for its sixth straight World Cup.