The United States Men’s National Team clinched its seventh straight World Cup appearance on Tuesday night, thanks to goals from Eddie Johnson in the 49th minute and Landon Donovan in the 78th minute.
A passionate American crowd stood and sang in Columbus Crew Stadium nearly two hours before the match began, and several hundred stayed for an hour after the final whistle. The U.S. needed a win or a tie from Honduras against Panama to clinch with two games to spare, and the American supporters watched on the videoboard as Honduras held on for a 2-2 draw.
U.S. players watched the Honduras-Panama game from their locker room, then popped champagne, and later came back on the field to celebrate with the remaining fans.
“It’s great to do it sooner than later, but to get it against your rival is even sweeter,” American captain Clint Dempsey said.
It’s the fourth straight World Cup qualifier the Americans have played against Mexico at Crew Stadium, and the fourth straight time the U.S. has prevailed by a score of 2-0. A capacity crowd of 24,584 seemed to boost the home team’s morale.
People want to come to Columbus and see U.S.-Mexico. And so it’s almost like the mecca really for us,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “You almost feel like it’s our destiny to win here.”
“Amazing, amazing crowd,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann added. “Kind of pushed these guys.”
Perhaps just as much as the crowd helped the U.S., it made Mexico uncomfortable.
“I think it really got into Mexico’s head, especially when we scored that first goal. You could see it on Mexico’s face. They were really defeated,” American defender Omar Gonzalez said. “From that point on we really took control of the game.”
Johnson got the start for the U.S. after Jozy Altidore was suspended for yellow-card accumulation. He almost scored off a cross from Donovan’s cross in the 48th minute, but the pass was just ahead of him. A minute later, Johnson headed Donovan’s corner kick eight yards out past Mexican goalkeeper Jesus Corona.
“We’ve got some good height in the box, and this time I wanted to make sure I kept it down enough,” Johnson said. “I was very fortunate it went in.”
As Mexico moved to a 3-4-3 formation, the U.S. scored again in the 78th minute after a throw-in when Mix Diskerud threaded the ball to the middle of the field. Dempsey nicked the ball as he slid into the goal-box, and Donovan poked it in from 2 yards.
“Obviously this is a huge, huge evening for all of us,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a huge milestone whenever you make it to a World Cup.”
With the win, the United States, at 5-2-1, took first place in the North and Central American and Caribbean finals with 16 points, one ahead of Costa Rica, who also clinched a World Cup berth after a 1-1 tie with Jamaica.
The Americans have two more qualifiers, now meaningless from a qualifying standpoint, against Jamaica on Oct. 11 in Kansas City and at Panama on Oct. 15. The team is likely to play exhibitions at Scotland and Austria in November.