“Dos a cero” is a chant that is going to haunt every Mexican, especially if El Tri fail to make it to Brazil. That is the chant that reverberated around the stadium in Columbus, Ohio as the clock wound down on the World Cup qualifier between the USMNT and Mexico.
About an hour later, the draw between Honduras and Panama closed the deal – “We are going to Brazil!” The other, slightly premature, chant hurled at the Mexicans was “You are not going to Brazil”. There are still two rounds to go and Mexico could still finish third (automatic qualification), or finish fourth and win a playoff against New Zealand.
There are some sinister conspiracy theories about the US throwing its game against Panama if it comes down to the last game for the fourth spot. I will confess I like that conspiracy. Hey, they are our “derby” rivals and have long looked down their noses at us. They are down and this long suffering US fan would like nothing better than to figuratively “stamp on them when they are on the ground”. Take no prisoners!
Sometimes lightning does strike twice. For the second time in two weeks, I saw a team depleted by injuries and suspensions pull off a comprehensive win over their most hated rivals. I was sorely tempted to add “lack of transfers”, but Jurgen Klinsmann has actually been very successful on the World Cup equivalent of the transfer market.
Given the proclivity of players to hit the ground each time there is so much as a gust of wind, I like to call it his “sign then dive” campaign by recruiting US eligible players from all over the planet – Denmark (Mukkel Diskerud), Austria (Terrence Boyd), Philippines (Nick Rimando). This was my “other” team, the USMNT, taking Mexico to the woodshed for what is becoming a traditional whooping.
In each of the last four World Cup qualifiers that we have entertained Mexico at Columbus, we have sent them packing with an identical 2-0 (“Dos a cero” in Spanish) margin. Going into the game, the US were literally without their best player on each line – Matt Besler in central defence, Michael Bradley in midfield and Jozy Altidore up front. Geoff Cameron, another key player, was also out on suspension.
The US had just seen an incredible 12-match winning streak broken at Costa Rica. Add to that, Mexico had just replaced their coach after a home loss to Honduras. You may wonder how that could work against the US. Well, the past two World Cup qualifiers, El Tri followed a pattern of poor results, a coaching change and an immediate resurgence that helped them qualify.
For the first twenty minutes, the game seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. The US were pinned back in their own third, while the Mexicans were passing the ball around nonchalantly. It seemed like every time the play was broken up, the US would promptly pass the ball right back to the Mexicans. I kept praying this was the football version of “rope-a-dope”.
In a strange way, it almost was just that. Perhaps Klinsmann had watched the Mexico-Honduras game. Mexico started brightly, took the lead at about the fourth minute and looked set to inflict a mauling.