As the USA qualified for its seventh consecutive FIFA World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Mexico in Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday night, two things were assured: the Americans have much depth to its squad and clearly, Crew Stadium is the bastion of U. S. soccer.
Going into this CONCACAF final round qualifying game, the USA was coming off a 3-1 loss in Costa Rica four nights before and with major starters missing due to injury and yellow card suspensions. Absent were central defender Matt Besler, forward Jozy Altidoe and midfielder Jeff Cameron, due to card suspensions, and the injured midfielder Michael Bradley, who missed the Costa Rica game.
In came Clarence Goodson for Besler, Kyle Beckerman for Jeff Cameron, Eddie Johnson took the place of Altidore and Alejandra Bedoya was first choice over Graham Zusi. The Americans weather an early storm from Mexico, which had its back to the wall coming off a home loss to Honduras days before and the loss of Coach Jose Manuel De la Torre, who was replaced by Mexico’s successful Olympic Gold medal winning coach Louis Fernando Tena.
Under Tena, Mexico looked a different team; in the first 20 minutes of the game, the visitors mounted several attacks early, forcing U. S. goalkeeper Tim Howard into making several saves, while giving hope to a team that was labeled as underachievers. Mexico had won only once in its previous seven CONCACAF qualifying games and soccer officials were miffed at the poor results of the once-CONCACAF powerhouse. Despite Mexico’s good first half effort, the scored board read 0-0 at the half, reflecting the fairly evenly played first period.
The second half told a different story as Johnson made the biggest difference; the Seattle Sounders forward, whose header in the first half was saved by Mexico’s goal keeper Jesus Corona, made no mistake in the second as he leapt high above Mexican defenders to head home a Landon Donovan corner kick in the 49th minute to give the USA a 1-0 lead with his 12th career qualifying goal and what eventually was the winner. Mexico meanwhile lost its first half spunk and slipped back into its underachieving mode – playing a staid game that lacked offensive creativity. In the 78th minute, substitute Mix Diskerud, in for Johnson, who left the game after hitting his head on the ground in tackle, sent a pass across the Mexican goal which saw Donovan at the end of it to tuck it away for the U. S. insurance goal.
The victory was the fourth straight over Mexico in World Cup qualifying at Crew Stadium, where a full house of over 25, 000-plus fans stayed long after the contest was over to party with the celebrating players, as they waited for the result of the Honduras-Panama game to make its qualification official. The 2-2 draw in Honduras meant that the USA could now book its flight to Brazil for next summer’s World Cup. Mexico, in danger of missing its first World Cup finals since 1990, is now in a fight with Panama for the fourth and final World Cup berth and the chance to play New Zealand in a home-and-away contest to reach Brazil.
Costa Rica needed a draw in Jamaica to qualify and succeeded, although in disappointing fashion. The visitors led for most of the second half, 1-0, but the Reggae Boyz came up with a late equalizer. Honduras was well on its way to solidifying the third place after leading Panama, 2-1, but Roberto Chen gave the never-say-die Panamanians an equalizer 40 seconds into injury time to keep their World Cup hopes alive.