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USA Beats Mexico, Moves Closer To World Cup

10:09 PM, Sep 10, 2013   |    comments
United States defender Omar Gonzalez celebrates with fans after the United States' 2-0 win. Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports
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Alejandro Zúñiga Sacks

COLUMBUS - There's a reason the U.S. men's soccer team schedules its biggest games at Crew Stadium. On Tuesday night, the Americans extended their undefeated record in Columbus and virtually guaranteed themselves a berth in the 2014 World Cup with a 2-0 triumph over Mexico.

Eddie Johnson's 49th-minute goal proved all the offense the Americans needed. The forward sparked pandemonium from the packed crowd of 24,584 by punching in Landon Donovan's corner to give the U.S. an improbable lead just minutes into the second half. Half an hour later, Donovan scored one of his own, sliding to poke in a low cross.

The U.S. will qualify for next summer's World Cup in Brazil if Honduras ties or beats Panama later Tuesday night.

The Americans moved into first place of their six-team qualifying group with 16 points, surpassing Costa Rica (15 points). Costa Rica tied Jamaica 1-1 on Tuesday. The top three teams in the group qualify for the World Cup, and the fourth-place team will play New Zealand in a playoff.

Until Johnson's header, the Americans looked shaky and at times completely out-of-sync. Mexico earned a pair of corners in the first five minutes of the contest and would have scored in the 10th had U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard not reacted quickly to defender DaMarcus Beasley's attempted clearance that sliced backwards. The veteran came up big again moments later, diving right to punch away a curling shot that looked destined for the back of the net. And on the final play before halftime, Howard deflected a header to keep Mexico off the scoreboard.

Once they took the lead, the Americans defended relentlessly, playing keep-away to run out the clock. And it worked, as Mexico couldn't generate serious chances after falling behind even as it substituted in more attackers.

The U.S. won despite playing without Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron, who all missed the game due to yellow card accumulation. Star midfielder Michael Bradley was also ruled out of the game with a sprained left ankle, and the absence of his distributing prowess proved particularly detrimental as the Americans struggled to connect on passes in the opening minutes.

But the Americans eventually began creating opportunities midway through the first half and tallied the game's two goals in the second. Donovan, his right eye nearly swollen shut due to an infection, was free on the left flank in the 28th minute, but he had his shot partially blocked. Earlier, the midfielder's crossed free kick had popped back out to Jermaine Jones, but the ensuing strike soared narrowly over the crossbar. And in the 32nd minute, Donovan's corner was punched toward the goal by Johnson, but Mexico goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona smothered the shot.

But Corona couldn't stop the Donovan-to-Johnson goal in the second half, and he was similarly helpless when Donovan sealed the victory and a potential World Cup berth.

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