There was no Dos A Cero this time. There weren't any points either, for the U.S. men's national team.
Mexico conquered Columbus at last, with Rafa Marquez's 89th-minute header off a corner kick the difference in a 2-1 win that opened the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal Friday night.
Returning to the site of four 2-0 USA victories over the last 15 years the U.S. felt confident entering the match, but it was Mexico, which brought an attack-heavy team under manager Juan Carlos Osorio, that responded by coming out unafraid and on the front foot.
Mexico nearly scored its first goal in Columbus 10 minutes in, through Tecatito Corona. The 23-year-old Porto star took a right-footed blast from the edge of the area, but Tim Howard did just enough to dive and get a fingertip on the shot to put it off the post.
El Tri finally did end that Columbus curse through Miguel Layun in the 20th minute. Michael Bradley lost a challenge in the midfield, and the opportunistic Layun pounced and hit a deflected shot that rolled by Howard to give Mexico the 1-0 lead.
The pressure continued, with Carlos Vela nearly making it 2-0 Mexico only to put his header off the underside of the crossbar.
Things got worse for the U.S. with five minutes to go in the first half, as Howard was forced out with an apparent groin injury. It was something that he tweaked on a goal kick. Howard stayed in the game after being attended to by medics, but after his next save he couldn't go on anymore and was replaced by Brad Guzan.
Fortunes turned for the USA mere minutes into the second half. Jozy Altidore held up the ball after receiving a pass from John Brooks, turned and fed Bobby Wood, who did the rest and got enough on the ball to get it by Alfredo Talavera to make it 1-1. It was Wood who scored an equalizer against Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup playoff in October 2015 (which Mexico ultimately won through Paul Aguilar).
Mexico thought it deserved a penalty in the 58th minute, as Hector Herrera went down in the box, but referee Walter Lopez whistled him for a dive and awarded a yellow card instead of a PK, much to the delight of the pro-U.S. crowd in attendance.
After Jozy Altidore had a free kick tipped over the bar by Talavera, Mexico nearly went ahead on the other end. Hirving Lozano, into the game for some five minutes, beat Brooks 1-v-1 and appeared to have Chicharito picked out wide open on the doorstep, but Fabian Johnson closed down and intervened at the final instant to prevent the point-blank chance. Chicharito entered the night a goal shy of Mexico's all-time record (46, held by Jared Borgetti).
Mexico got its go-ahead goal, and it came through Marquez, a U.S. nemesis. The 37-year-old captain's unmarked, flicked-on header found the back of the net off Layun's 89th-minute corner kick, stunning the Americans and putting Mexico in line for the three points.
The match was the first of a 10-game slate that will determine CONCACAF's three automatic entrants in the 2018 World Cup and a fourth that will head to an intercontinental playoff.
The USA will play at Costa Rica on Tuesday, while Mexico plays at Panama. Costa Rica and Panama defeated Trinidad & Tobago and Honduras, respectively, in their Hex openers.
Here were the complete rosters for the match:
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Ethan Horvath (Molde), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), William Yarbrough (Club Leon)
DEFENDERS: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)
MIDFIELDERS: Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen), Alan Gordon (LA Galaxy), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
GOALKEEPERS: Guillermo Ochoa (Granada), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul)
DEFENDERS: Rafa Marquez (Atlas), Hector Moreno (PSV), Miguel Layun (Porto), Diego Reyes (Espanyol), Nestor Araujo (Santos Laguna), Oswaldo Alanis (Chivas), Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Carlos Salcedo (Fiorentina),
MIDFIELDERS: Andres Guardado (PSV), Jonathan Dos Santos (Villarreal), Giovani Dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt), Orbelin Pineda (Chivas), Jesus Duenas (Tigres), Hector Herrera (Porto), Jurgen Damm (Tigres)
FORWARDS: Javier Hernandez (Bayer Leverkusen), Oribe Peralta (America), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Hirving Lozano (Pachuca), Jose Corona (Porto)