With the Americans a man short, McBride scored off a perfect cross from Cobi Jones in the 72nd minute Sunday, and the United States escaped with a 1-0 victory over Guatemala.
"Sometimes, it's not pretty," U.S. forward Joe-Max Moore said. "It was hard to play this. But McBride got us through."
Frustrated for nearly three-quarters of the game by Guatemala goalkeeper Edgar Estrada, the Americans were starting to get worried. Then, in the 65th minute, Eddie Lewis was ejected by Mexican referee Ulises Rangel for elbowing Fabricio Benitez.
Lewis, who had entered just eight minutes earlier, went straight to the U.S. locker room, watching the rest of the game alone on television.
"With my tail between my legs," was the way Lewis put it.
"All I'm thinking is we're waiting longer and longer to get a goal," he said, "and all I did to contribute was get thrown out. If we got down, we would have had to win our next two games. It wasn't very comfortable."
Before a raucous sellout crowd of 51,996 at RFK Stadium, dominated by U.S. fans in the lower deck and Guatemalan fans in the upper deck, the Americans looked to be wilting from the pressure and the heat of a sweltering afternoon.
McBride's goal suddenly emerged when Jivon Kirovski got the ball to Jones, who came in as a sub in the 57th minute, to create a 3-on-2 break.
Jones, wide on the right at the top of the penalty area, had Moore streaking toward the right post and McBride running toward the left. Jones looked at Moore, then sent the ball to McBride, one of just two players from Major League Soccer in the Americans' starting lineup.
McBride had time to extend his left foot, waited a split second for the goalkeeper to commit, then threaded the ball into the narrow space between the post and an onrushing Estrada.
Back in the locker room, Lewis was off the hook.
"I screamed," he said.
For McBride, the ejection contributed to the goal.
"We actually played the ball quicker," he said. "It wasn't that we were playing bad before, but it might have meant we had a little more space to move the ball, and we actually had to do it."
The United States (2-1-1) is second in its regional semifinal group with seven points, two behind Costa Rica (3-1), which won 3-0 at home against Barbados earlier in the day.
Guatemala (1-2-1) is third with four points, one ahead of Barbados (1-3). Only the top two teams will qualify for the six-nation regional finals, which will produce three qualifiers from the North and Central American and Caribbean region.
Both the Americans and Guatemalans have two games remaining, at home against Costa Rica and at Barbdos. Now, the Americans' Oct. 11 game against Costa Rica at Columbus, Ohio, isn't quite as critical.
"We can go in now not as anxious or nervous," U.S. captain Claudio Reyna said.
Reyna was knocked out the game in the 77th minute following a tackle by Evaraldo Valencia that left cleat marks. Reyna thought Valencia should have been ejected, but there was no call.
"I was really scared. I didn't know if anything was wrong with my knee," said Reyna, who apparently escaped without a serious injury. "One of his legs went in knee high. He was clearly going in trying to injure me."
The Americans, who wasted leads in their opening two qualifiers, a 1-1 tie at Guatemala and a 2-1 loss at Costa Rica, still had to preserve the lead.
Keller made a nice save in the 87th minute, stopping a six-yard header by Benitez, who was all alone.
"I think he didn't know he had that much time," Keller said. "We dodged a bullet."
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