Determined effort sends U.S. past Mexico and earns berth in 2014 World Cup.
By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, September 10, 2013) -- The omens seemed to be conspiring against the United States men and their effort to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
For tonight’s key CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Final-Round match against Mexico, the U.S. would be without its glue, star two-way midfielder Michael Bradley, out with a sprained ankle. Furthermore, three other important contributors would be sitting out with yellow-cards suspensions, including top scorer Jozy Altidore and central defender Matt Besler for having been issued cautions in Friday’s deflating 3-1 loss in a qualifier to Costa Rica.
The match didn’t start well for the U.S., but as time transpired, the Americans progressively grew stronger. Their determined effort, led by a sparkling early save by goalkeeper Tim Howard and second-half strikes by Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan, led to a 2-0 decision over Mexico, earning a berth in next summer’s World Cup in Brazil before an enthusiastic, pro-USA sellout crowd of 24,584 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
Four the fourth straight qualifying final round, the U.S. defeated Mexico by the same “dos a cero” count in Columbus.
“It’s a huge milestone whenever you make it to the World Cup, the biggest competition in this sport, especially the World Cup that is hosted in Brazil, one of the biggest soccer nations in the world,” U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann said. “It means a lot to all of us, to all the fans and to our country as well.”
The loss to the U.S. left Mexico pondering the unthinkable – not qualifying for the World Cup. Resultantly, the increasingly desperate El Tri came out flying and dominated possession in the opening 20 minutes.
Playing under new manager Luis Fernando Tena, who led Mexico to the gold medal in last year's London Summer Olympics, El Tri was turned away by outstanding defending and quality keeping by Howard.
Howard made a full-stretch diving save to deny Christian Gimenez in the 19th minute. He also controlled balls that came into his box from Mexican corner kicks. After about the 23rd minute, the Americans began to come together began, for the first time, to string together some passes and to threaten the visitor’s net.
Howard made two saves in the final minutes of the first half, holding a drive from Giovani Dos Santos in the 43rd minute and using another full-out effort to his left post to push away a low header by striker Javier (Chicharito) Hernandez two minutes later.
Mexico was never able to marshal much of a threat after that. When Johnson skied to blast home a header in the 49th minute, Mexico visibly sagged.
In the 78th minute, reserve midfielder Mix Diskerud carried to the right end-line and sent a low cross across the goal-mouth which might have caught Clint Dempsey’s toy before rolling to Donovan to drive into the left roof of the net. Mexico was done..
The U.S. won this match by playing the style of soccer one might expect from a visiting team. It defended as a unit, getting numbers behind the ball whenever Mexico crossed the center-line. The Americans counter-attacked when they got possession, making sure they didn’t stretch themselves out of position while attacking. They counted on dead-ball plays -- corners and free kicks -- for scoring threats.
One question that has hung over this team all through the Klinsmann era is whether his team has actual depth, whether the bench had the talent to produce at the international level. From necessity, players who wouldn’t seem to figure in a qualifier against Mexico came up big.
Clarence Goodson was called in from Major League Soccer for Besler and frankly was more solid than Besler was Friday against Costa Rica. Fabian Johnson started at right back for the first time since August 2012 and played well. Alejandro Bedoya was thrust into the midfield. Michael Parkhurst came off the bench to replace injured Fabian Johnson to start the second half and Diskerud came in as a substitute to ignite the play that led to the U.S.’s clinching tally.
Kyle Beckerman did an admirable job filling in for Bradley.
“They're experienced players, they've played these games before and they know what these games are about,” Klinsmann said. “I told them over the last couple days that I expect their leadership. I expect them to carry us through difficult moments, whatever happens.”
With two matches remaining in October, the U.S. is first in the final hexagonal a 5-2-1 with 16 points. Costa Rica also qualified for the World Cup and is second at 4-1-3 with 15 points. Mexico fell to a tie for fourth with Panama at 1-2-5 with eight points. The top three finishers earn automatic qualification while the fourth-place team will face New Zealand in a two-match series for another berth. Honduras (3-3-2, 11 points) is third.
The U.S. will host Jamaica in Kansas City, Kan., on October 11 and face Panama on the road four days later. Where a team finishes in its qualification group holds no consequence in World Cup seeding, but Klinsmann promises to bring his full team to the remaining games.
“We take this very seriously, so it doesn’t change anything,” he said. “This is business.”
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 7.5: He was aggressive whereas in the loss to Costa Rica he was tentative and it made all the difference. He kept the U.S. in the match with some sensational goalkeeping
Defender DaMarcus Beasley - 6.5: The veteran likely qualified for his fourth World Cup by showing again a work rate second to none on the team. He was a constant threat coming down the left side, but was always there making defensive stops when they were called for. A gutty performance.
Defender Clarence Goodson - 6: He was very good and took a lot of pressure off his central defense partner, and fellow former University of Maryland Terp, Omar Gonzalez. He pushed forward to make defensive stops in the midfield and was among the most pleasant surprises on a night there were a number of positive impressions.
Defender Omar Gonzalez - 5.5: On the positive side, he was strong in the air. On the negative side, he still makes errors that can probably be blamed on lack of experience. He had only a so-so night.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 6.5: He is a midfielder, both in temperament and experience. That said, he did well making stops and punishing forward.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - 6: He performed an unsung role. He stayed home in front of the defense and allowed Jermaine Jones to roam at will. A solid performance that might just cement his place on the squad going to Brazil.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 7: Tonight, he played within himself and was simply everywhere in the midfield, making defensive stops and starting the attack on counters. His role on offensive corners is to put himself almost on the goal-line to cause a bit of havoc with the opposing keeper. This was a key to Johnson’s headed goal when the Corona had to go around him and did not get to Donovan’s feed before Eddie Johnson did.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 6: Another substitute thrust into a starting role and like several others, he responded with a quality effort. Between now and next May, he has to show he can do this whenever called on. If he can, he will be on the plane to Brazil.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 5.5: He was absent for long stretches, but helped on both U.S. goals and later in killing off the match. He can be forgiven for the late penalty-kick miss.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 7.5: If there remained any question about who the most important American player is, his performance tonight ended any speculation. Even though he was told to play wide on the right, the offense moved through him at all times. He sent in the perfect corner kick on the first goal and got into position to score the second.
Forward Eddie Johnson - 6.5: It was not just his towering header; Johnson was everywhere on the front line causing the Mexican defense all kinds of problems. Yet, when the U.S. tried to get 11 players behind the ball to protect its lead, he was able to get back and contribute to the defense.
Defender Michael Parkhurst (46th minute for Fabian Johnson) - 6: He came on as an injury replacement and was up to speed immediately.
Midfielder Mix Diskerud (75th minute for Eddie Johnson) - 6.5: You can’t ask much more of a substitute than to make the play that secures a victory just minutes after coming on. He made a big statement as to why he should go to Brazil.
Midfielder Graham Zusi (83rd minute for Bedoya) - 5.5: He was sent on to use his pace to help kill off the match and he did so.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Tim Howard.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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