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Final round of World Cup qualifying opens with weakened Mexico.

Kljestan shines in dull U.S. victory over Sweden.

CONCACAF draw has Americans facing Mexico to open final round of qualifying.

Cooper, Adu lead U.S. to dominant, if meaningless, decision over Guatemala.

Qualifying loss to ascendant T&T means little to U.S. men.

Cooper says no to invitation to join U.S. team in qualifying.

U.S. bursts into final round of qualifying by demolishing Cuba 6-1.

Improved U.S. attack sinks T&T, nears advancement to final qualifying round.

Americans score first victory in Guatemala in ugly qualifier.

High security follows Americans around Guatemala City.

Qualifying semifinals begin with trip to unfriendly Guatemala.

U.S. methodically closes out Barbados to advance in qualifying.

Against weak foe, U.S. attack finally finds itself in 8-0 qualifying rout of Barbados.

Howard saves U.S. men in 0-0 draw with Argentina in match of tired teams.

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Analysis

U.S. continues home domination of Mexico by starting final qualifying with 2-0 victory.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

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."


U.S. Player Ratings:

Starters

Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6.5: He has become a relaxed goalkeeper, a big plus in big matches. Did what he had to do to keep a clean sheet. Obviously, he was in considerable discomfort after being fouled by Marquez.

Defender Heath Pearce - 5.5: He did have difficulty at times with the quick wingers he was facing, especially dos Santos, but he recovered before his mistakes became costly. Given his lack of club playing time, he probably was not fully match fit. In the end he did enough.

Defender Frankie Hejduk - 7: The veteran played a terrific match. Pushing far forward on offense, he was constantly dangerous on the flank, but always got back defensively. Has really not lost a step and showed why he will continue to be valuable for this team.

Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 7: Very quietly, he dominated the middle of the defense. Marked Ochoa right out of the match and, at times, used surprising pace to run down opponents. Involved in the first goal.

Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: Was the stay-at-home defender in this match and did little wrong. Was especially effective cleaning up balls that got through the midfield before they could become a danger.

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 5: Made a few fine plays, but often seemed overmatched and slowed noticeably in the final half hour.

Midfielder Michael Bradley - 7.5: The best U.S. and not just because of his two goals. Showing a new maturity, he worked tirelessly in the midfield, making play after play both on attack and defensively. His work rate was superb. Certainly his best game for the U.S.

Midfielder Landon Donovan - 6: A big effort, but at times with less effect then he might have hoped. Was bothered by the physical defense he faced, not allowing him bto reak away. Did make a fine contribution on both goals.

Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 5.5: Roamed on both flanks and used his speed well. Did a lot of work in the midfield and defensively. Had some chances he could not finish but, overall, a positive effort.

Forward Clint Dempsey - 5: Because the defenders and Bradley pushed forward, he often had to drop back into a defensive role. Not his flashest match by any means, but put in a lot of solid work.

Forward Brian Ching - 5: Much the same can be said for him. He had a good work rate and was constantly in the mix. Did not do a lot offensively, but was strong throughout.

Reserves

Forward Jozy Altidore (83rd minute for Ching) - 5: Brought in fresh legs, but never settled into the match during a short stint. Did make a nice effort that ended up in the final goal.

Midfielder Ricardo Clark (86th minute for Kljestan) - 5.5: Put in some very useful minutes, killing off the match. Made several good plays in a short time.

SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Michael Bradley.


Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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