United States fans came out in force at Columbus Crew Stadium. (Jay LaPrete/AP)
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Three thoughts on the U.S.’s 2-0 victory against Mexico in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier:
• Dos a cero, and World Cup 2014 is beckoning for the United States. With Honduras' 2-2 draw with Panama, the U.S. has clinched a berth in the world’s greatest sporting event after its fourth straight qualifying victory in Columbus over its archrival Mexico. The visitors had a slight edge in the play during a scoreless first half, and you got the sense that if the U.S. was going to score it would come off a set-piece. Sure enough, Eddie Johnson’s thundering header off a Landon Donovan corner kick put the U.S. ahead and sent the boisterously pro-U.S. crowd into hysterics. It was poetic justice that Landon Donovan would score late to make it 2-0, the same score we have seen in all three U.S. qualifying wins over Mexico here. It was also poetic that Clint Dempsey missed a late penalty to maintain that score. There’s something special about this piece of grass in Columbus, Ohio, and the U.S. found a way to win despite missing some of its top players, including Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler. This was a gut-check game, and the U.S. passed the test with flying colors.
• Tim Howard was terrific too. The U.S. goalkeeper made three big saves in the first half that kept the game tied, including two late in the period on Giovani Dos Santos and a sneaky Javier Hernández header that was heading into the goal. Some of Howard’s critics were vocal after the U.S.’s 3-1 loss to Costa Rica, but the 34-year-old keeper was decisive in goal on Tuesday and did a solid job organizing the back line. That’s an aspect of Howard’s game that’s underrated: With the departure of captain Carlos Bocanegra earlier this year, much more responsibility has been put on Howard to marshal the defense. Howard was clearly better than his Mexican counterpart, Jesús Corona, who was at fault on Johnson’s goal for the U.S. and helped cost his team the game.
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• Mexico is staring at a trip to New Zealand in November.El Tri is in shambles, with just eight points from eight Hexagonal qualifiers, but thanks to the ultra-forgiving format in CONCACAF the Mexicans are still on track to finish fourth and go into a November playoff against New Zealand for the final spot of the 32 in Brazil. There is much to fix on the Mexican side: Its frenetic wide play that used to be so threatening is a shadow of its former self -- Andrés Guardado in particular is not what he used to be -- and there seems to be a lack of belief among the Mexicans, an old bugbear that has plagued El Tri off and on for years. Can Mexico rediscover its mojo in time to qualify for the World Cup? I think so, and my sense is a new coach will be able to make improvements in time for next summer.