ANDY SCHREUR - Wednesday, September 11, 2013
The United States began Tuesday's match against Mexico the same way they began Friday's matchup against Costa Rica: on the defensive. However, the end result couldn't have been more different.
The US again looked shaky to start the match, allowing Mexico mostly unchallenged possession and clearly lacking Michael Bradley's presence. Tim Howard made a huge save in the 19th minute when he made a diving stop to his right on a Cristian Giménez blast from 20 yards.
However, the US gained some composure after 20 minutes and began to create some chances. In the 23rd minute, Clint Dempsey made a cutting move on the left side of the box and angled back toward the center of the field where his shot was deflected into the hands of Cruz Azul's Jose Corona.
The US continued to create chances as the first half wore on. Jermaine Jones missed the net wide from 30 yards but had a open look at net. Then, in the 28th minute, Landon Donovan took on Hector Moreno but the Mexican veteran was able to deflect his shot from the left wing and Corona easily gobbled it up.
The US' best chance in the first half came off a Donovan corner kick. Omar Gonzalez shielded Eddie Johnson's defender and the Sounders attacker rose and struck the ball well with his head but it was straight at Corona.
The US seemed happy to sit back with nine or ten men behind the ball as Mexico knocked the ball around the midfield and focusing on counterattacking play on the backs of Johnson and Donovan.
Giovani dos Santos again challenged Howard in the 43rd minute by weaving in and out of the US defense but Howard made a diving save to his left to deny the Villareal attacker.
Alejandro Bedoya picked up a yellow card in extra time for taking down Giménez, who neatly won the ball and was headed towards Howard on a break. Diego Reyes then flicked a header towards Howard off the free kick, who dove to his left and forced it to the side for a corner kick. A foul on Mexico on the resulting corner kick ended the half 0-0.
The second half began much more balanced than the start of the first. Michael Parkhurst replaced Fabian Johnson at right back to begin the final 45 minutes. The US won a corner kick in the 49th minute, which proved to change the game. Landon Donovan swung the ball into the six yard box and found a rising Eddie Johnson, who powerfully headed the ball past Corona, who had come off his line and into the net for a 1-0 lead. The sequence was very similar to Donovan's corner kick in the first half, which also found Johnson alone in the box but with a very different result.
Howard was again called into action on a Jesus Zavala header off a corner kick in the 58th minute. Johnson then suffered a knock to the head and was forced to leave the match in favor of Mix Diskerud in the 74th minute. Johnson soon left the bench and headed into the locker room to go through the concussion testing with US trainers. Diskerud proved once again to be a timely substitution for Jurgen Klinsmann.
The US doubled their lead in the 78th minute when Diskerud centered the ball in a tight spot along the ground and found Donovan, who deflected the ball into the back of the net with the outside of his boot. The "Dos a Cero" chants from the American Outlaws soon followed as the sellout crowd in Columbus sensed a World Cup clinching victory. Diskerud's first touch, towards the end line made all the difference and created some space to allow the through ball to Donovan, who converted.
Graham Zusi returned to the US lineup in the 84th minute for Alejandro Bedoya, the man who replaced him in the starting lineup. Bedoya was likely replaced due to the yellow card he picked up earlier in the match. Donovan then picked up a yellow card for time wasting while taking a throw-in on the near sideline.
The last action of the match came when Zavala brought down US Captain Clint Dempsey in the box and a penalty was called. Dempsey then blasted the ball wide and the match poetically finished 2-0.
The US closed out the win with solid defending accompanied by a visibly deflated Mexico team, who has incredibly not won in World Cup Qualifying since a 1-0 win over Jamaica on June 6.
The United States then retired to the locker room to watch the second half of Honduras and Panama from Tegucigalpa. The match ended in a 2-2 draw thanks to a 92nd minute goal by Panama's Roberto Chen, which sealed the seventh straight World Cup birth for the US Men's National Team. Meanwhile, Mexico sits in fifth place and out of the playoff with New Zealand on goal differential with eight points.
The United States has two matches remaining in the Hexagonal, in Kansas City against Jamaica on October 10 and at Panama on October 14.