The United States men’s national team qualified for the 2014 World Cup on Tuesday night with a 2-0 victory over Mexico in Columbus, Ohio on the back of goals by Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan and Panama's subsequent draw with Honduras.
The win put the U.S. back on top of the CONCACAF hexagonal with 16 points from eight games.
Here are six things we learned.
Following the U.S.’ historic 2-0 win over Mexico in the Round of 16 in the 2002 World Cup, Dos a Cero took on special meaning for U.S. soccer fans. While Mexico’s soccer history and, to be frank, their talent level, has traditionally dwarfed the United States’, the Americans win over El Tri in a World Cup match became a point of pride for U.S. fans and a point of pain for Mexican fans.
Surprisingly, the 2-0 traditional scoreline actually started before the 2002 World Cup during a WC qualifying match and has continued ever since. While it may seem impossible to believe, the Yanks’ 2-0 final scoreline was the fourth such result for the U.S. over Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. All four results, with the others coming in 2001, 2005 and 2009, have come in World Cup qualifying.
Starting in June, the USMNT put together an amazing streak of 12 straight wins. During the run, every decision USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made worked out, whether it was picking the lineup, the tactics or the substitutions.
Against Costa Rica just four days ago, Klinsmann seemed to get it all wrong and with injuries to Michael Bradley and Brad Evans and suspensions to Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and Jozy Altidore, the stage looked set for a disaster against Mexico.
However, on Tuesday against El Tri, Klinsmann once again got it right. He stuck with Tim Howard despite Howard’s subpar game against Costa Rica and growing calls for Brad Guzan to be given the gloves. He stuck with DaMarcus Beasley at left-back despite fans screaming for him to be pulled from the starting lineup. He inserted Clarence Goodson into the gap at center-back and sent John Anthony Brooks home. The German went with Eddie Johnson up top despite a clamoring for Aron Johannsson to be given a shot and selected Kyle Beckerman, the much-maligned midfielder, to replace the injured Bradley.
Even more surprising, Klinsmann benched Graham Zusi in favor of Alejandro Bedoya and started Fabian Johnson at right-back.
In the end, every single one of Klinsmann’s decisions worked out and the U.S. picked up the all-important win.
Against Costa Rica, Tim Howard was at least partially culpable on two of the Ticos goals. He certainly could have done better on their second, a header which snuck by him as he slid across the face of the net. Many fans also believed he should have come off his line earlier on Costa Rica’s third goal.
After the game, a poll by American Soccer Now showed 60% of U.S. fans favoring Brad Guzan to start against Mexico in the upcoming match for the U.S.
— American Soccer Now (@ThisIsASN) September 9, 2013
That might seem fickle, but Guzan was excellent for the U.S. in their 0-0 draw at the Azteca in March and has been on fire in the English Premier League with Aston Villa over the past year.
However, on Tuesday, Howard proved he still has the chops to be a difference-maker for the U.S., making a number of fine saves to keep the USMNT in the game early. In the 19th minute, Howard stopped an excellent effort by parrying the ball wide after a Fabian Johnson giveaway led to a Mexican counterattack.
In the 44th minute, Howard had a great catch on a shot after Omar Gonzalez was too slow in stepping to a Mexican attacker. The goalie added a great low dive in first-half stoppage time to preserve the 0-0 scoreline.
In the second half, Howard stayed mistake free as the U.S. cruised to the win.
Against Costa Rica, Jermaine Jones had a shocker, giving the ball away a team-leading 22 times. However, like he has done multiple times in the past with the USMNT, he followed up a terrible performance with a much better one the next game.
Jones’ best play of the night came in the 24th minute, as he recognized the danger of a Mexican counterattack and fell into the backline after Omar Gonzalez allowed the ball to get in behind. The Schalke midfielder did enough on the play to knock the Mexican attacker off the ball and stop the breakaway. Jones was also better in possession, finding Fabian Johnson, Landon Donovan, Alejandro Bedoya and DaMarcus Beasley on the flanks and he had several solid tackles and wins in the air.
Jones did still have his fair share of mistakes. He gave the ball away in the first minute of the game leading to a dangerous Mexican counterattack which Clarence Goodson cleared away. He also failed to stay with a give-and-go in the 20th minute which forced Bedoya to foul just outside the area and had a reckless challenge in first-half stoppage time which again forced Bedoya to foul. That tackle also earned Bedoya a yellow and resulted in the free kick and Mexican header that Howard barely kept out of the American's net right before the halftime whistle.
It couldn’t have been easy for Clarence Goodson, who was not on the United States' original roster, to not only be called into the team at the last minute, but to then have to start against the most-dangerous team in CONCACAF. However, Goodson was excellent, clearing ball after ball out of the U.S. area. The Mexicans helped make it easy for the defender, giving him a game that was tailor-made for his strong suits, winning services out of the air.
The Mexicans were never able to expose Goodson on the dribble and his pairing with Gonzalez in the back did well to help USMNT to the shutout.
With the firing of their manager, Jose Manuel de la Torres, better known as Chepo, just four days ago, it wasn’t the best of circumstances for the Mexican national team. Still, El Tri's talent pool is deep and often a change in management sparks a team to new, if temporary, heights.
Mexico currently sits in fourth place in CONCACAF qualifying and looks like it will have to travel to New Zealand to play in an inter-confederation playoff to qualify for the World Cup.
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