Preamble: Good evening and welcome to the minute-by-minute account of tonight's exciting World Cup qualifying match between the United States and Mexico.
The last time these two bitter rivals met in Columbus, in September 2005, the US walked away with a 2-0 victory that clinched a spot in the 2006 World Cup.
Far less is at stake tonight, but you can expect the competition to be just as fierce. These teams don't like each other, so we're no doubt in for plenty of hard fouls.
Lost in all of the noise about David Beckham's expected move to AC Milan has been Landon Donovan's outstanding form at Bayern Munich.
He scored several goals in exhibition matches and assisted on a few others. Donovan can legitimately expect to get serious minutes for Jurgen Klinsmann's squad until he is called back to LA.
Unless of course, Bayern makes a bid for him (my fingers are crossed).
Point is, Donovan has gotten regular playing time for one of the better teams in Europe, and done well. Mexico had better watch out.
El Tri stumbled into the final round of qualification, beating out Jamaica on goal differential. Sven-Goran Eriksson's job could conceivably be at stake in the next few matches if they continue their poor run of form.
Luckily, the Mexicans have a healthy pool of players to choose from; they hope a game against the US will spark some passion in their squad and produce a result.
Prediction: USA! USA! USA! 2-1 Mexico, on goals from Donovan and Sacha Kljestan.
Team America: Howard (GK), Onyewu, Bocanegra, Hejduk, Pearce, Kljestan, Beasley, Dempsey, Bradley, Donovan, Ching
Mexico: Sanchez (GK), Salcido, Marquz, Galindo, Osorio, Dos Santos, Pardo, Augusto, Medina, Castillo, Ochoa
On a more personal note: The US is 2-0 in WCQ matches that I have attended. Can they pull together and win one with me watching on TV?
I opted out of driving down to Columbus tonight because hey, who wants to spend several hours sitting outside in Columbus in the middle of February?
Besides, I was in Columbus three and a half years ago to watch Oguchi Onyewu stare down Jared Borgetti.
Current temperature in Columbus: thanks to an unseasonable heat wave, it's 50 degrees. Damn it, I'm an idiot.
But it is supposed to be quite rainy.
Pregame hubbub: Pedro Gomez claims that Albania is a city. We're off to a great start.
1 min: After the teams take the field to a face-melting guitar solo, we're off! How many times does Brett Favre have to retire before it's not news anymore?
3 min: A great save by Tim Howard denies an early Mexican attempt. Both teams look mighty nervous though.
6 min: A Pavel Pardo free kick beats Tim Howard and skips over the crossbar for a goal kick. Mexico look the better team, but then Donovan nearly scores from the goal kick.
10 min: The US back line looks very shaky. I'm just going to go ahead and blame Heath Pearce. Why won't Bradley select Jonathan Bornstein?
12 min: A couple of menacing crosses into the Mexican box result in a lot of nothing for the US. Good stuff though, and they eventually win a corner. This is how it began in 2005...
13 min: ...But not in 2009. The wind is really having a huge effect on things right now.
15 min: Has any American player's stock risen more quickly in 2009 than Sacha Kljestan? He looked great in the Olympics last summer yeah, but the hat trick he scored against Sweden was huge. If not for the credit crunch, he may have been on his way to Celtic in January.
19 min: A quick glance at Wikipedia tells me that Carlos Ochoa is 30 years old. He could pass for 45, easily. But what 45 year-old would dare to wear those audacious neon boots?
21 min: The US earns a free kick in a very dangerous position as Brian Ching is unceremoniously dumped to the ground from about 20 yards out. What will the US make of this great chance?
22 min: After some preening and a poor attempt at trickery on the part of DaMarcus Beasley, Donovan blasts the free kick wide to Oswaldo Sanchez' right. The first great chance for the US, wasted.
25 min: Team America has taken the initiative in the last several minutes. They're getting off quick, snappy passes and dominating possession. Nothing to show for it besides some grass stains though.
26 min: Holy crap! When did Clint Dempsey get a haircut? Kljestan, too. Wow.
30 min: Donovan looks pissed. Let's just say that Heath Pearce is to good service as Roman Abramovich is to job security.
31 min: Dempsey misses a volley from about 10 yards out! The ball was headed back to him by Donovan from a cross, and Dempsey had the misfortune to fire straight at Sanchez. Great play regardless.
33 min: Nery Castillo's night may be done. He seems to have tweaked his hamstring around midfield. Israel Martinez on for him.
35 min: Carlos Ochoa lucky to escape a booking as he catches Carlos Bocanegra with a boot to the head. This isn't your typical US/Mexico match. It's been well over a half hour and nobody has been booked yet.
37 min: Michael Bradley has a go from about 30 yards. If the ball had curved at all, it would have been very tough for Sanchez to deal with. Instead, it's a couple yards wide.
39 min: Rafael Marquez has apparently been shot in the face, judging by the way he went down. The replay shows us that Beasley merely nicked his shin. The ref gives a foul but isn't buying the drama.
40 min: Mexico's turn to take a free kick from a dangerous spot as Bocanegra commits a silly foul 25 yards from goal. Martinez and Pardo are over the ball, discussing their postgame dinner plans. Martinez takes the shot and boots it right into Howard's waiting arms.
42 min: A great through ball by Dempsey earns a corner for the US. Beasley to take it, and hopefully doing a better job with it than last time!
43 min: GOOOOOOAAAAALLLLLLLLL! 1-0 USA! USA! USA! Beasley hits Donovan on the far post. Donovan then heads back to Onyewu in the center, who forces a great save from Sanchez. But, Michael Bradley is there to pounce on the rebound. Great play by the Americans.
45 min: Beasley nearly scores, instead earning another corner. This one is just over Michael Bradley's head, but it's all Uncle Sam at the moment.
Halftime: As the teams head to the locker room for orange slices and Gatorade, the US finds themselves in the lead, 1-0.
The Americans were clearly the superior team in the first half. Aside from a few early jitters (and a nervy back line), the US had the better of the chances and looked more dangerous in possession. They aren't shying away from the physical nature of the game and have the Mexicans reeling.
If Mexico wants to get back in this game, they need to do a better job of maintaining possession. Dos Santos has looked dangerous when he has managed to touch the ball, but Mexico is losing possession too easily to help him out as much as they would like.
Beasley and Donovan have been the stars for the US, while Dos Santos has been the lone bright spot for Mexico.
47 min: In a stunning show of professionalism, I've missed the start of the second half. Nobody scored though, so I don't feel too bad about it. A great through ball by Michael Bradley is the first play I'm able to see. Just a hair too far for Brian Ching to make anything out of it.
49 min: Ching has started the second half looking very active (unless he took a nap in the first two minutes), and earns the US a corner. Donovan takes it and Sanchez punches clear. The US had plenty of players in the area though, Sanchez will be thankful to have gotten a solid punch on that ball.
54 min: I'm still not sure what it is that Heath Pearce does. He's just so...uninspiring.
55 min: Dos Santos gets around Heath Pearce (mostly) and tries to get in a cross. Goal kick, but at least somebody is trying for El Tri.
57 min: Do we really not have any bookings at this point? Somebody throw an elbow or something, this is out of character.
58 min: Apparently the MLS has told AC Milan that they have until Friday to overpay for the services of David Beckham, otherwise they have to wait until October when they can get him for free. Great business model, guys, I'd rather have nothing than $15 million. But then again, I'm a Buddhist. Not really.
60 min: Mexico substitution: Sinha on, Medina off. That's two substitutions for them.
64 min: Mexico earns a free kick about 45 yards from goal on a whistle that happened ages after the foul, if there ever was a foul. For the first time tonight, we can complain about the officiating.
65 min: RED CARD!!! Now the rivalry begins in earnest! Mexico nearly converts from the free kick, and instead ends up a man down after Marquez digs his studs into Tim Howard's side. What an incredible turn of events! We had gone over an hour without a card, and then Marquez goes and draws a straight red card. This is tragic if you're a Mexico fan.
67 min: Tim Howard was apparently given a yellow card. His offense, as far as I can tell, was allowing himself to be kicked by Marquez. Typical CONCACAF officiating. That's why the rest of the world thinks we're a joke.
69 min: Frankie Hejduk puts in a great tackle, then attempts to feed Brian Ching, who gets shoved in the face. This is what I was expecting the entire game to be like. Meanwhile, looks like Omar Bravo is preparing to come in for Mexico.
71 min: The US is on the attack again. They're keeping the ball while edging forward, looking to find a chink in the armor. Kljestan almost found Beasley, but the key word there was "almost."
72 min: Mexico substitution: Omar Bravo on, Dos Santos off. Foolish move. Dos Santos has been the only decent player out there tonight for Mexico.
73 min: Hejduk needs to come off, he's been limping pretty badly for the last few minutes. Dos Santos caught him with his studs just above the knee, and now he's running with all the fluidity of a 63-year old who's been hit in the leg repeatedly with a hammer.
76 min: A great buildup from the US is ruined by Heath Pearce, who hits a cross into the Horseshoe. Bob, stop capping him!
78 min: Donovan to Hejduk just outside the Mexican box...Hejduk trips over a bottle of Geritol and hits a weak shot 10 yards wide of the net.
79 min: Pavel Pardo steps up to take Mexico's first corner of the night. A bottle of water is thrown in his general direction, and he is offended. It's as if Mexican fans don't fling batteries (and worse) at opponents in the Azteca.
81 min: Jozy Altidore prepares to enter the fray. He'll be coming on for...another American, I suppose. Bradley hasn't made the switch just yet. Meanwhile, Donovan plays a neat flick to some space just out of Oguchi Onyewu's reach.
83 min: Altidore on for Ching. Jozy scored in his first taste of action against Mexico, a 2-2 draw.
84 min: Hejduk is still flinging himself about on the pitch, and wins another hard challenge. His body has taken more abuse tonight than the Toyota Hilux from Top Gear.
86 min: Heath Pearce attempts to dribble around the Mexican defense and fails miserably. Why??? Ricardo Clark comes on for Sacha Kljestan.
88 min: Jozy Altidore commits a foul by breathing on a defender. There was no contact there, at all.
90 min: Mexico with one last chance, as they attempt to push forward in the dying minutes. We've got three minutes of stoppage time, and the US should be able to hang on.
90+2 min: GOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLL!!!!!! Michael Bradley secures all three points for the US with a great strike from 25 yards. Altidore started the break, was dragged down from behind, but not before he fed Landon Donovan on the wing. Donovan then centered for Bradley, who didn't miss from distance this time. That shot just had too much power for Sanchez to handle.
Full time: Michael Bradley takes home Man of the Match honors as he bags both goals for Team America. The US dominated from end to end and takes the early lead in the race for South Africa 2010.
Thanks for reading, it's been fun.
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