The U.S. starting lineup produced a couple of surprises. With Michael Parkhurst on the roster, seeing Fabian Johnson start at right back was unexpected, as was Alejandro Bedoya getting the call over Graham Zusi. The full lineup was meant to highlight America’s depth: Tim Howard; Fabian Johnson, Clay Goodson, Omar González, DaMarcus Beasley; Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman; Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan; Eddie Johnson.
Needing points, Mexico came out the aggressors and posed the first danger, earning a corner in the second minute that Howard held easily. El Tri earned another corner in the fifth minute that was put harmlessly wide.
In the seventh minute, the first real scare came. Giovani Dos Santos was given time to cross from the left and while no Mexican players were there to meet his cross, Beasley’s attempted clearance whiffed, and the ball bounced off his standing leg and had to be held by Howard.
Mexico was doing a better job of pressuring the ball in the early stages, winning it back and forcing the U.S. to play quickly. Neither team was carving out chances, but Mexico was clearly having the better of it.
The U.S. had their first sustained possession in the eleventh minute, resulting in a decent long-range look for Dempsey, who dragged his shot wide. Further good play by Dempsey earned a free kick in the fourteenth. Donovan swung a dangerous ball into the Mexico box, which Gonzalez headed back for Jones to to strike, but his volley went high.
In the nineteenth, a midfield turnover by Fabian Johnson led to a very dangerous Mexico break. The U.S. defense got back, but not before Mexico put a shot to Howard’s back post that the American goalie did very well to palm away. Only moments later, Dos Santos was brought down just outside the the U.S. box on the left, and the resulting shot was put inches over; Mexico was turning the screw.
In the 22nd, Dempsey took an Eddie Johnson flick into the Mexico box. He cut to his right to make space for a shot, but it was blocked and became an easy catch for Mexico keeper Jose de Jesus Corona.
The U.S. was getting slowly into the match, and, in the 28th, Dempsey released Donovan into the Mexico box. Donovan was under pressure and his shot was deflected, making for an easy save.
Fabian Johnson earned a corner in the 31st. Donovan put in another great ball, which was attacked with venom by Eddie Johnson. The big striker powered a header down toward the corner but Corona came up big, stopping the shot and holding on without a rebound.
Mexico lacked a cutting edge, but was holding more possession. The U.S. was defending calmly, but could not create chances of their own. In the 43rd, great individual work down the right sideline by Fabian Johnson nearly created something out of nothing, but the final ball failed to appear.
In the 44th, Dos Santos, Mexico’s best player in the first half, carried the ball forward. The American defense was caught of two minds and did not step forward. Dos Santos took the opportunity and slapped a shot that was headed toward the far side-netting. Once again, Howard had sure hands and made a diving catch.
In the 46th, a poorly-considered slide tackle by Jones, which missed player and ball, gifted Mexico a break opportunity. Bedoya was forced into a tackle from behind, which earned Mexico a free kick and Bedoya a yellow. On the resulting kick, Howard, once more, was forced to dive and punch the ball around his post. It may not have been going in, but he had to be sure.
That was the last meaningful event of the half, and the two sides went into the half scoreless. The two sides were relatively even-matched, but Mexico created three good chances to the U.S.’s one, and the U.S. would need to do more if a win was desired.
Fabian Johnson came off at the half, replaced by Michael Parkhurst.
In the 48th, a kick from Howard was flicked on by the Mexico left back. Bedoya ran on to it and put in a low cross that just evaded Eddie Johnson in the box. Donovan picked up the loose ball and put in a shot that was deflected out for a corner.
Donovan put in another enticing ball, and once again Eddie Johnson attacked it. This time there would be no mistake, as Johnson arrived before his defender and buried his header straight down the middle of the goal. 1–0 to the U.S.
The goal changed the atmosphere, and Mexico was suddenly vulnerable. In the 53rd, Dempsey was nearly played into the box alone, but Corona got out just in time.
In the 58th, Mexico won a corner of its own. One became two after the first was headed out by Gonzalez, and two became zero as a tame header fell into Howard’s arms.
Mexico spent the next ten minutes huffing and puffing but creating nothing. Eventually, Luis Fernando Tena made his first substitution as interim manager, bringing on Oribe Peralta and moving to a 4-4-2.
Johnson asked for a sub in the 75th. His head struck the ground earlier in the match, but he was cleared to play after being checked by team doctors. Mix Diskerud came on and pushed Dempsey further up.
U.S. fans will hope Johnson’s head is alright, but the personnel change was fortuitous as Diskerud was immediately involved. After a U.S. throw, Diskerud turned through the Mexico box with a pair of deft touches. At the end line, he calmly rolled the ball across the mouth of goal. Dempsey got the slightest of touches and Donovan was at the back post to poke it home. 2–0 to the U.S.
The U.S. made their third substitution in the 84th, bringing on Zusi for the previously cautioned Bedoya.
In the 85th, Donovan earned a yellow of his own for delaying the game on a throw-in.
The referee added four minutes of extra time and, in the dying moments, Dempsey was taken down in the Mexico box. His shot went well wide. The horrific strike was quickly forgotten as the final whistle blew.
Dos a cero yet again: Numerology is make-believe, but how often can the same two teams play to the same scoreline in the same stadium? 2001, 2005, 2009, and now 2013. Whatever it means, the U.S. will take it. And Columbus certainly played its part tonight: The crowd was rowdy, raucous, and did their best to lift the U.S. players from before the opening whistle. This game was truly a team effort, from man one through twelve.
Second-teamers step up: Beckerman, Goodson, Bedoya, and Diskerud all made important contributions against Mexico. Goodson was invisible in the best way possible, Beckerman provided a much stabler base for the midfield than was evident against Costa Rica, Bedoya was active on both ends of the field, and Diskerud, well, what can you say? His assist sealed the game.
Eddie Johnson is becoming indispensable: Johnson’s scoring record for the national team is approaching the absurd, and the importance of some of his goals in the past year cannot be overstated. Whether out wide or up top, he brings a combination of power, aggression, and skill that no one else in the U.S. player pool can provide, not even Jozy Altidore. The only thing that could keep him from going to Brazil is injury.
Jones rebounds: Jermaine Jones was not good against Costa Rica. Against Mexico, his play was much more controlled and effective. With Beckerman staying home beside him, Jones ranged around cleaning up messes. And while one missed tackle was almost costly, he kept his head and played within himself. When Jones does that, he can be an important contributor for the U.S.
The U.S. looked composed. While Mexico had the better of the play for long stretches of the first half, the U.S. never looked rattled in the way it had against Costa Rica. Mexico, especially after giving up the opening goal, looked toothless and offered almost nothing.
With Costa Rica’s draw and the result in Honduras, the U.S. has qualified for the World Cup for the seventh consecutive time and currently leads their group. After the loss in Costa Rica, tonight was the best possible turnaround. The U.S. program, and Jürgen Klinsmann in particular, has proven itself in every way possible these last six months, and can use the final qualifying games to fine-tune. Certainly, the U.S. will look to win out and top the group, but with qualification assured the pressure’s well and truly off.
Who could ask for more?