RECAP: USA 2 - Mexico 0
If the three words didn’t already haunt the Mexican soccer consciousness, Tuesday night’s US victory forever cemented Dos a Cero’s place in CONCACAF’s grandest rivalry.
With three straight 2-0 World Cup qualifying wins under their belts against El Tri in Columbus and the largest supporters’ section in US national team history behind them, the Americans made history once again, using goals from Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovanto make it four in a row over Mexico.
The decisive goal came just four in the second half, with Johnson finding the net on a typically towering header off a Landon Donovan corner kick. Donovan would then turn scorer to ice a tightly-contested game in the 78th minute.
With a win against Mexico and a Honduras win or draw against Panama all the Americans needed to seal a place in the 2014 World Cup, they did their part with a 2-0 victory that at worst guarantees the US a place in a playoff game against New Zealand.
The three points moved Jurgen Klinsmann’s side to 16 points in the Hexagonal – one ahead of second-placed Costa Rica – while their biggest rivals tenatively remained in fourth place with eight points, just one win and two games to play.
Missing Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and Jozy Altidore because of yellow-card suspension and making do without the injured Michael Bradley (ankle), US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann plugged Johnson in up top and swapped Alejandro Bedoya in for Graham Zusi. On the defensive side, Clarence Goodson replaced Besler while Fabian Johnson lined up at right back.
Luis Fernando Tena, who replaced Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre after last Friday's 2-1 loss against Honduras, held nothing back with El Tri desperate for a jolt of confidence, trotting out an attack-minded lineup that included Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Andres Guardado, neither of whom started on Friday.
Tena’s tweaks paid immediate dividends, with the visitors finding a direct path behind the US backline via balls over the top during an opening 10 minutes that saw El Tri firmly on the front foot but lacking the pass to truly unlock the US defense.
Gradually, though, the home side began to work themselves back into the game. Jermaine Jones saw a half volley from Omar Gonzalez’s knockdown blaze over the bar, and Clint Dempsey and Donovan both had cut-back opportunities blocked into the hands of Mexican captain Jesus Corona.
The US’ turn to truly test the opposition keeper came in the 32nd minute, as Johnson rose to meet Landon Donovan’s corner kick, but Corona was on hand to make the save. Mexico forced Howard into a much more challenging intervention in stoppage time, as the US netminder went full stretch to tip Diego Reyes’ flick-on header from a free kick around the post.
As it turned out, Johnson’s chance was a forbearer of things to come in the second half. The forward made a forceful run to the center of goal, taking advantage of the space created by runs from Gonzalez and Goodson – and Corona's ill-advised choice to come out to punch – to send the sellout crowd into convulsions.
Johnson was unable to see the game out, though, as he found himself on the wrong end of a collision about 15 minutes from time and was replaced by Diskerud soon after, a sub that didn't take long to pay big dividends.
This time it was Donovan who punished Mexico after a throw-in situation undid the visitors’ backline. After Dempsey kept the ball alive, Diskerud burst through in the right channel and slid the ball across the goalmouth, where the US’ all-time leading goalscorer poked it into an empty net.
The US had an opportunity to make it 3-0 with the final kick of the game, but Dempsey sent a penalty kick wide right, sealing a fourth consecutive dos a cero in Columbus.