The United States men's national team played without its star striker, Jozy Altidore, in a crucial World Cup qualifying match Tuesday against Mexico, but they still found a way to generate plenty of scoring chances that resulted in a dominating 2-0 victory.
The biggest moment in Tuesday's telling match for the Americans was when Eddie Johnson converted a header from a Landon Donovan cross—these two players have proved this summer that they can step up for this team on a match-by-match basis.
Donovan also dominated on the match with three shots, including a 78th-minute goal that sealed the deal for the U.S. and clinched their bid for next summer's World Cup.
Fans were anxious to see how the team would fare offensively without Altidore, who was suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards, as well as Michael Bradley. But some key X-factors stepped up to help an always effective duo of Clint Dempsey and Donovan.
Johnson was called upon to replace Altidore and consequently pestered the El Tri defense all night, showcasing speed to get around defenders and serving as the striker the Americans needed without their usual starter in the fold.
He meshed perfectly with Donovan and Dempsey on the night, while Kyle Beckerman attacked the wing with menace, forcing multiple scoring chances and setting up Donovan's goal to give the Americans a 2-0 lead.
Although Mexico struggled in their first match without former manager Jose Manuel de la Torre, they still generated chances by leading USA in shots 13-11 and owning a 52-48 possession advantage. They put plenty of scoring chances on, and goalkeeper Tim Howard stepped up to the challenge big-time.
The Everton goalkeeper made four saves on the night, with a few out-stretched deflections that protected a 1-0 lead and energized his team to get the second goal.
With all of these parts, the U.S. men's national team is still primarily run by two players, Dempsey and Donovan, who are both peaking.
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Donovan has been out of the fold for much of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, but he has come back in full force this summer with a dominating Gold Cup Golden Ball performance. His goal Tuesday night wasn't by accident—he was all over the place with three shots on the night.
You'd have to think that at 31 years old, Donovan may be looking at the 2014 World Cup as his last chance to bring his national team glory, and that should only motivate his play.
On top of that, America recently added Aron Johannsson from Iceland who has experience following up USA's starting striker—Johannsson backs up Altidore at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar and has done well this season.
The U.S. is obviously more talented with Altidore in the fold, but there's no doubt America has the offensive talent to make up for his absence in the not-so-unlikely event he picks up too many yellow cards again.