COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sure, it seemed like a foregone conclusion, but official passage into a World Cup is still a moment to celebrate for U.S. Soccer, whose players, coaches and legion of supporters can now bask – officially so – in the high achievement of advancing into a seventh consecutive World Cup.
The United States will indeed be going to Brazil in 2014, having now reached every World Cup since last failing to qualify in 1986.
The United States did its part Tuesday against thanks to a huge Eddie Johnson second half goal and a late insurance strike from noted and longtime Mexico killer Landon Donovan. When Honduras tied with Panama down in Central America (finishing about an hour later, and therefore preventing more immediate player celebrations), Jurgen Klinsmann’s team was officially “in” with two games to spare.
So, 2-0 once again for the United States national team against Mexico. Of course. (“Dos a cero” is Spanish for 2-0, just so you know.) Just like in 2001, 2005 and 2009, all in Columbus, all against Mexico in those past World Cup qualifiers. Just like the 2-0 score from El Tri’s painful loss to the United States in a 2002 World Cup elimination match.
“Dos a cero! … Dos a cero!” as the packed crowd at Crew Stadium taunted Mexico mercilessly. Along with “You’re not going to Brazil … You’re not going to Brazil!” – a chant that was one thing against little Panama … but this was mighty Mexico! And with the border rival thrown tossed further into turmoil, the crowd just might be right.
“This is a huge, huge evening for all of us,” Klinsmann said “The team gave everything tonight, from the first second on, the effort, how they were dedicated to each other. The crowd, unbelievable. Amazing, amazing crowd here in Columbus, and it pushed these guys. … Obviously, they are enjoying the moment now.”
Mexico remains in fourth place in the six-team final round qualifying group. That would get beleaguered El Tri into a play-in series against New Zealand.
The crowd at Crew Stadium, brilliantly red and so alive in song through most of the night, had gone just a little quiet as the game, a bit frenetic early, slowed due to the heat. But the smoke bombs went flying as Johnson rose high and muscled his way out of a late challenge from Diego Reyes to slam in the Landon Donovan’s well-aimed 49th minute corner kick.
Johnson has four goals in his last six matches for the national team. He has 12 career goals in World Cup qualifying, tied for second best all-time.
Second half sub Mix Diskerud did much of the work on Donovan’s late goal, but Dempsey had just enough of a touch to get the official assist. Donovan, barring injury, will be going to his fourth World Cup.
Mexico had time and space early against a U.S. midfield having some trouble sorting itself out. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard needed to be alert throughout the first 45, with big saves and plenty of traffic to work through on Mexican corner kicks.
Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman eventually located their bearings in the middle. And while neither will remember Tuesday as their best passing night, they effectively clogged the middle against a Mexican team that prefers to attack right down the middle channel.
U.S. center backs Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson were big in the middle, too, getting caught a little too high a couple of times in the first half but managing out outstanding nights otherwise. Right back Fabian Johnson was solid in defense as well before his halftime removal due to a hamstring strain.
Klinsmann, as he has done so often, had some lineup surprises for everyone. Fabian Johnson became the latest stop-gap at right back, replacing Michael Orozco, who had struggled to make the adjustment from his usual center back position against Costa Rica.
Fabian Johnson, who has mostly been a left back and a left-sided attacker for the national team, had not played at right back for Klinsmann since the 1-0 win over Mexico last August at Azteca Stadium – back when seeing El Tri struggle at Azteca was a bigger deal.
Also out of favor was Graham Zusi, whose impact Friday was minimal. Alejandro Bedoya replaced Zusi along the right. And as expected, the veteran Goodson, among the foursome of reinforcements summoned over the weekend to replace the injured and suspended U.S. men, was the choice to partner Gonzalez at center back.
Finally, to fill the midfield gap Klinsmann rewarded Beckerman for all that steady Gold Cup work with his biggest start in any match since the 2009 MLS Cup final.
While Mexico managed to find some gaps and make things uncomfortable for the hosts right away, the United States needed about 15 minutes for its first real scoring opportunity. After Clint Dempsey was fouled, Donovan found Gonzalez at the far post on a free kick. The big center back arranged a dandy shot for Jones, who swung big but went high with his left foot.
Mostly, though, without Michael Bradley’s abilities as a midfield conduit, early versions of the United States attack were all about long balls over the midfield, which was having trouble putting any passes together. There was way too much room, meanwhile, for Mexican midfielders, who had time to pick out passes.
Given the Mexican’s possession and ability to look dangerous in spots, Beckerman and Johnson were lucky to escape early bookings after late fouls.
The hosts slowly began finding their way forward. Dempsey, Donovan and Jones all came close, going wide or seeing big shots softened by deflections. Eddie Johnson rose well to head a corner kick at goal, but right at goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona.
Once the United States got its goal, Howard was never tested as the United States kept Mexican scoring star Javier Hernandez and the rest of El Tri mostly bottled up.