Dos a Cero again! … United States qualifies for World Cup 2014 after another 2-0 win over Mexico

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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.”

(MORE: U.S. Man of the Match, Eddie Johnson)

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.

source:  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.

(MORE: What we learned from Tuesday’s World Cup clincher)

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.

(MORE: Even Tim Howard wanted the score to read “2-0”)

 

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday