Dos a cero struck for an incredible fourth time running in Columbus but the consequences this time of the United States’ 2-0 win over Mexico have the potential to be greater than ever. Second-half goals from Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan, which even allowed for a late penalty miss by Clint Dempsey, fired Jurgen Klinsmann’s side to three points that will be enough to secure a place in next year’s World Cup, unless Panama produce a surprise victory in Honduras. For Mexico, the only saving grace from this latest disappointment would be a Panama defeat to keep them clinging to a playoff spot.
Both sides had suffered defeats last Friday and lost more on top of it with the U.S. losing four players for this encounter. While Mexico finally dispensed with coach Jose Manuel de la Torre. Ultimately, it was the U.S. that responded the better. Luis Fernando Tena showed signs of getting Mexico to play with more verve than had been shown in their previously insipid qualifying campaign. Ultimately, though, the same problems persisted. El Tri could not find a creative spark to break down their stubborn well-drilled opponents and their impetus faded rather than built throughout the 90 minutes.
With two games of the Hexagonal to go, Mexico’s fate is still in their own hands to secure a playoff with New Zealand. It should never have come to this. Tena may pay for the defeat by his reign being made a one-time thing, but, in truth, this defeat is not the reason for their predicament.
The U.S. will not care a jot for Mexico’s problems. A trip to Brazil has been all-but booked, an achievement that will taste all the sweeter after things looked very different following a defeat in Honduras in the opening match of the Hexagonal. The side rebounded from that and it admirably responded from a 3-1 reversal in Costa Rica last time out as several fringe players staked their claim to be on the plane next summer.
Fresh from their coaching change and having their backs firmly against the wall, Mexico began on the offensive and at a good tempo. However, it was an opening spell that the U.S. was able to hold off without any real threat to their goal. Indeed, the U.S. appeared comfortable allowing Mexico to dictate proceedings.
The gauntlet was laid down to El Tri, as it had been so often through qualifying to provide the invention to pierce through their opponents’ backline. There were some more promising signs than under De la Torre. Argentina-born Christian Gimenez wasn’t getting on the ball enough, but when he did there was danger. His shot from the 20 yards forced a good parry by Howard, while a free-kick from the attacking midfielder sailed just over the cross bar.
Howard was forced into further action at the end of the first half to deny Giovani dos Santos, after Omar Gonzalez almost paid the price for failing to close down the Villarreal man, and a header from Diego Reyes. They were decent stops by Howard, but Mexico will have been disappointed that he wasn’t given a more intense test.
At the other end, Mexico was forced into a couple of blocks to stop U.S. shots from finding the target. There was also a warning that they should have heeded about Eddie Johnson’s threat from corners. On this occasion, the Seattle Sounders man couldn’t quite make good enough contact to take it past Jose de Jesus Corona.
The visitors would not escape so fortunately four minutes into the second half. From another Donovan corner, this time Corona elected to try and deal with it himself, but got nowhere near the ball eight yards out and Johnson leapt impressively to get above the flat-footed Reyes and power a header into the empty net.
Mexico’s initial response was puzzling. Tena appeared to be taking a page out of his ultra-conservative predecessor’s playbook by bringing on central midfielder Hector Herrera for the inventive Gimenez. Still, the match continued to be played increasingly deep in the U.S. half. Again, though, as with early on, the U.S. staved off the pressure without taking any major shots.
Even with Oribe Peralta coming on alongside Hernandez, the home side looked comfortable. The battle had been won and with 12 minutes remaining it was time for the U.S. to nail the knockout punch.
Mexico failed poorly to clear their lines, but the rest was all Mix Diskerud. Just seconds after coming on, the Rosenborg man used a real quality touch to bypass a defender and position himself to fire a low ball across the face of goal, which he duly did. Dempsey got the slightest of touches to the ball at the near post, which was enough to help it on for the in-rushing Donovan to poke into the roof of the net at the far post.
Dempsey blasted a late penalty wide, which would have piled further misery on Mexico, but it mattered not. After the U.S. has played second fiddle to Mexico in CONCACAF for so long, the fortunes were reversed on this night in Columbus more than ever before.