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 a lacklustre half against Jamaica.
Zusi provided it when he entered the game to a roar from the sellout crowd at Sporting Park 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.
Mexico's hopes still alive
Mexico needed a spectacular Raul Jimenez goal in the 85th minute to beat Panama 2-1 on Friday and revive its hopes of qualifying for the World Cup.
The result moved Mexico into fourth place in CONCACAF qualifying, three points ahead of Panama and three points behind third-placed Honduras with one game to play.
The top three teams qualify automatically for the World Cup, while the fourth team faces an intercontinental playoff against New Zealand.
Mexico went ahead through Oribe Peralta's goal in the 40th minute but Panama equalized through Luis Tejada in the 81st.
Jimenez scored the memorable winner, receiving a cross with his back to goal, knocking the ball up in the air to himself and belting in an overhead kick from 16 yards.