COLUMBUS, Ohio (Wednesday, February 11, 2009) -- For the third straight time, the United States defeated Mexico 2-0 in a CONCACAF Final Round World Cup Qualifying match Crew Stadium. This one was a gritty victory in difficult conditions in front of 23,776 fans who braved strong wind and rain.
The match was played mostly in the midfield and that's where the U.S. won it. The determined Americans, led by midfielder Michael Bradley's inspired play, were able to control Mexico and never let it get into the match.
"We needed to impose our game on them," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "We needed to push hard and to be aggressive. Our midfield play as a group set a tone collectively.
"In conditions like these, it's important to move as a team and not leave any gaps on the field, to connect passes. We understood how important it was to shut them down. Maybe some of our guys did not have their best performances individually, but we worked as a group."
The U.S., which is 9-0-2 in its last nine home games against Mexico, pushed hard from the opening whistle. The first 20 minutes were played at a frantic pace with neither team really able to get much of an edge. The match settled in after that, but most of the play remained in midfield with neither side able to break through.
When the U.S. finally did take a lead, it was with the kind of goal that was fitting, considering how tightly the first half was played. In the 43rd minute, midfielder DaMarcus Beasley sent a right-side corner past the goal. Striker Landon Donovan kept the ball in play, heading it back into the crowded middle where defender Oguchi Onyewu hit it at Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez, who couldn't hold it. The ball bounced out to Bradley whose shot went through a crowd into the net.
Mexico coach Sven Goran-Eriksson, despite being without injured left winger Andres Guardado and suspended regulars Gerardo Torrado, Carlos Vela, and Fernando Arce, started an attack-minded lineup with three forwards -- Giovani dos Santos, Nery Castillo and Carlos Ochoa. The Mexicans came out ready to push forward, but the U.S. stayed right with them and Eriksson suffered a blow when Castillo went out in the 14th minute with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
Mexico was never in the match after the Rafael Marquez received a red card from referee Carlos Batres in the 65th minute after he kicked U.S. keeper Tim Howard as the two of them collided going for a lofted ball. Howard came away holding his side.
The U.S. scheduled the match here hoping for cold weather, such as in a the 2001 qualifier in Columbus when the Mexicans were deeply distracted by bitter cold temperatures and lost 2-0. Tonight, there was rain, wind, flooding and tornado warnings with the field swamped by water 90 minutes before kickoff.
The stadium field crew worked furiously and by kickoff most of the standing water had been removed, leaving the playing surface was decent. After a lull, however, the wind picked up again at times almost gale strength. The U.S. won the coin toss and elected to take the wind the first half, had the best run of play and came away with the lead.
In the second half, the Americans' high work rate in the middle kept Mexico at bay despite its obvious advantage of the wind at its backs. Then Marquez was sent off. Finally, in the match's dying moments Bradley, coming up the middle unmarked, took a pass from Donovan and lashed a ball through Oswaldo for the final 2-0 margin.
After the match tempers flared a bit as the two teams made their way through the same exit from the field to their almost adjoining dressing rooms. Order was quickly restored after a bit of pushing and shoving.
"It's great to start the final round with a win against Mexico," Bob Bradley said. "The all-around team effort was good and it's a good starting point to build on."