United States Tops Mexico, 2-0, in World Cup Qualifier

michael bradley - u.s. national soccer team
Michael Bradley, center, celebrates his first half goal with teammates Oguchi Onyewu, left, and Brian Ching, right, during the U.S.'s 2-0 win over archrival Mexico Wednesday night. (Matt Sullivan - Reuters)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 11 -- The United States was clutching a one-goal lead over Mexico with only a few minutes remaining in a 2010 World Cup qualifying match Wednesday night at wind-whipped Columbus Crew Stadium.

The Mexicans, short-handed after the ejection of top defender Rafael Márquez, had little hope of scoring the equalizer and escaping with a point on the opening day of the six-team final round. But a game between these seething rivals staged in the Ohio capital simply cannot end with a single-goal margin.

So appropriately enough, U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley's 25-yard shot skidded under goalkeeper Oswaldo Sánchez and into the net for his second goal, culminating a 2-0 victory over Mexico at this location for the third time in eight years.

"Psychologically, there is a big advantage now, especially playing here," U.S. forward Landon Donovan said.

In front of a capacity crowd of 23,776, the Americans extended their home unbeaten streak against Mexico to 11 games (9-0-2) and stretched their undefeated run at home against regional competition to 51 (41-0-10). They also launched their 10-game, final-round schedule in efficient, if not dazzling, style.

Bradley, 21, scored from close range in the 43rd minute and then completed his first multi-goal game for the national team with the blast from distance during added time.

"These games against Mexico are special, fun to play," said Bradley, who plays professionally for Borussia Moenchengladbach in the German Bundesliga. "As a player, these are the ones you want to play in."

Bradley contributed more than goals, bolstering a midfield that didn't allow Mexico to generate much attack.

"Besides the goals, he was great breaking up plays and covering a lot of ground," U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra said. "We won the midfield battle."

Despite winning here again, the Americans did not have as favorable of a setting as they had hoped. The cold weather that bedeviled Mexico here in 2001 did not materialize and the crowd seemed evenly split.

Weather was an issue, but not in the way everyone expected for a game scheduled in this part of the country during the winter. A tornado watch was issued early in the day, and about two hours before kickoff, winds reaching 61 mph whipped banners out of place and pounding rain created scattered puddles near midfield. Lightning followed a half-hour later and, as an eerie yellow glow filled the western sky and a brilliant rainbow emerged to the east, fans were instructed to seek shelter as a precaution.

As kickoff approached, so did a massive cloud mass the color of outer space. Once the match began, the teams' primary concern was the wind, which the Americans had at their backs in the first half.

Both teams threatened, but neither broke through until just before halftime. DaMarcus Beasley served a corner kick to the far side, where Donovan glided into position and nodded a cross into the middle. Sánchez made a spectacular save on Oguchi Onyewu's five-yard header, but the rebound fell to Bradley for the simple finish.

"There were a bunch of guys there," he said. "It just bounced loose for me."

The second half was uneventful until the 65th minute, when Mexico failed to convert a scramble in the U.S. box -- Israel Martínez's cross rolled past Giovani dos Santos lying near the goal line while goalkeeper Tim Howard was inside the net -- and Márquez was ejected for driving his cleats into Howard's leg.

Afterward, Márquez, who was also ejected in Mexico's loss to the United States at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea, publicly apologized.

"It was a 50-50 ball and he came in a little late -- no hard feelings," said Howard, who received a yellow card a moment later for delaying the game and must sit out the March 28 qualifier at El Salvador.

Down a player, Mexico hardly threatened again and Bradley secured another 2-0 victory in the Buckeye State.

Asked how he felt about his son's heroic night, U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said: "Right now, I'm the coach. It's about the team, it really is."

U.S. Notes: Approaching the tunnel leading to the locker rooms after the game, defender Frankie Hejduk was slapped in the face by an unidentified Mexican staff member.

"I was just trying to pump the crowd up," Hejduk said. "It was a misunderstanding. There was a little love tap and that was it. I still have my face. That's just how emotional this game is."

RFK Will Host Oct. 14 Qualifier

RFK Stadium has been selected to host the U.S. World Cup qualifier Oct. 14 against Costa Rica, the last game of the final round. Washington was the site of last fall's U.S.-Cuba semifinal-round match. The Americans have an 11-3-3 record at RFK since 1991 and have won four straight by a 16-2 margin.

The U.S. Soccer Federation also announced that the June 6 game against Honduras has been awarded to Chicago's Soldier Field and the Sept. 5 match with El Salvador will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium outside Salt Lake City.

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