Posted on February 12, 2009
The U.S. Men’s National Team continued their domination of Mexico with a confident and clinical 2-0 victory to open the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Midfielder Michael Bradley scored goals at the conclusion of each half in wet and windy conditions in front of a rabid pro-American sell-out crowd of 23,776 fans at Columbus Crew Stadium.
The U.S. is now 9-0-2 at home against Mexico since 1999, outscoring their rival 19-3 in that span. The 2-0 triumph also adds to the team’s recent slate of significant victories by the same margin, marking the sixth time this decade the team has defeated Mexico by that score (a tally which includes three World Cup qualifiers and a second round victory in the 2002 FIFA World Cup).
“It’s great to start the final round with a win against Mexico,” said U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Bob Bradley. “The all around team effort was good. It’s a good starting point and something to build on.”
For the 21-year-old Michael Bradley, the two goals were the fourth and fifth of his career, and his third and fourth in seven career World Cup qualifying games. He is the fourth player in U.S. history to score two goals in a game against Mexico, and the first since Steve Moyers did it 19 years ago in a 2-1 FIFA World Cup qualifying win on Nov. 23, 1980.
Bradley’s first goal came just two minutes before halftime, as he pounced on a save from Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez to power home a close-range finish from the center of the goalkeeper area after Oguchi Onyewu had headed a hard shot on target from six yards out. That first goal came just a few seconds after Frankie Hejduk had set up a corner kick by hustling to a quick post-up pass from Brian Ching, getting to the ball just before it crossed the endline and playing it off Mexican defender Carlos Salcido. On the ensuing corner, DaMarcus Beasley hit a high, looping ball that got caught up in the wind before finding the head of Landon Donovan on the far post who headed perfectly back into the area for Onyewu before Bradley finished the rebound.
The final goal came in the second minute of stoppage time with Bradley finishing easily from 25 yards out with a powerful shot that froze a slow-reacting Sanchez. Second-half sub Jozy Altidore helped set up the goal by calmly collecting a ball at midfield, establishing his position against a challenging Mexican defense and then laying off an easy pass into the left flank for a sprinting Donovan to carry toward goal and lay off for Bradley.
“These are special games, they’re fun games to play in,” said Michael Bradley. “As a player, these are the games we want to play in. In the locker room before the game, we looked at every guy and knew we were ready to play. I don’t think its one guy, its 11 guys committed to do every little thing on the field to make sure we were going to get the result.”
The U.S. controlled play throughout most of the match, continually combining in the middle of the field with quick passes and fast pace to create space and keep Mexico on their heals. The confident play resulted in a number of close early chances, most notably a great build-up in the 16th minute that ended with Beasley taking a stab from the top of the penalty arc that sailed high and wide. Six minutes later, Brian Ching earned a free kick from just outside the area that Donovan hit just wide of the left post.
The game could have been much different, though, in the third minute, as young Mexican forward Giovani Dos Santos was stonewalled on a sitter from just 10 yards out by U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard following some sloppy defending from the U.S. The save was one of three on the night for Howard, who was his usual sure-handed self on numerous other crosses and balls played into his penalty area.
It was Howard who was at the center of another pivotal moment in the game when he was on the receiving end of a malicious stab to the right thigh from the cleats of Rafael Marquez in the 65th minute. Marquez received an immediate red card from referee Carlos Batres of Guatemala on the play. Unfortunately for Howard, the result of the play also saw him pick-up a yellow card for time wasting, his second of World Cup qualifying, which means he must sit out the USA’s next qualifier on March 28 in El Salvador.
The red card challenge from Marquez came just seconds after Mexico’s best chance to score. Pavel Pardo sent a perfect free kick from the center of the field into the penalty area where an errant touch from Dos Santos set up Fausto Pinto perfectly on the left side of the box. Pinto took a touch and then slid a dangerous shot past an open goal that was somehow missed at the far post for an easy tap-in by Dos Santos, laying flat on his back. Although Dos Santos was arguably in an offside position on the missed open net tap-in, the flag stayed down and the ball was quickly played back into the area where Howard confidently snared it before being spiked by Marquez in the thigh.
The red card for Marquez was reminiscent of his exit from the USA’s 2-0 victory over Mexico at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea, when he was sent off after a vicious head butt to all-time U.S. cap leader Cobi Jones.
As evidence of the pace and confidence with which the U.S. played, Mexico made all three substitutions and had a player ejected all before the U.S. made a single change as the 11 starters played with a rhythm that left the result rarely in doubt. Eventually, Bob Bradley would make two changes in the final 10 minutes as the U.S. controlled the game with a man advantage for the final 25 minutes.