On Tuesday night, a psychologically fragile Mexico side took the field at what has become its own personal house of horrors. After a decent first half for Mexico, Eddie Johnson scored off a corner early in the second half.
Down a goal and with 40 minutes to play, Mexico was beaten.
“I noticed a big change once we scored that first goal,” U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez said. “You could see it in their eyes, they were just really defeated and that's when we really started to pick up our game.”
Inevitably, a second goal would arrive. With the U.S. up 2-0 and only seconds to play, Clint Dempsey drew a penalty kick. The USA's streak of three consecutive 2-0 wins over Mexico in Columbus was in serious jeopardy.
Dempsey missed well wide. The Columbus mystique (and the Yanks) carried the evening.
Mexico got off to a bright start, but when it couldn't find a goal in the first half, the U.S. went into the break having dodged a bullet. In the second half, the USA, and a boisterous crowd of more than 24,000, took over.
“This is a great crowd,” USA goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “It's become it's own monster, people want to come to Columbus to see U.S./Mexico, and so it's almost like the Mecca really for us.”
A trip to the American soccer Mecca was the last thing Mexico needed after a shock 2-1 defeat to Honduras Friday, which resulted in the firing of coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre. With interim coach Luis Fernando Tena at the helm, El Tri displayed the same timidity that became a staple of the Chepo era.
“I think you could feel it in the body language of the Mexican players that once they didn't get a goal they tried really hard for in the first 20-25 minutes, they got heavier and heavier,” USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “You could see the psychological load in their minds that they started to doubt themselves.”
As has so often been the case during this disaster of a Hexagonal, Mexico responded to adversity in the worst way possible.
“Understandably, they're under a lot of pressure and we knew that if we kept the game at zero or we were ahead, it was going to play into our favor heavily,” USA midfielder Landon Donovan said. “I think once we got the goal we could see in their eyes that it was going to end in a victory for us.”
For the USA, the night ended with a spot in Brazil next summer. For Mexico, the future is much less certain, and it will likely involve a new coach, as Tena is expected to be replaced after just a game in charge.
The only thing certain after the game though, was that Columbus has become a special, mystical place for the USA, and a nightmare for its biggest rival.
“Because of the way results have gone the last four or five times, you almost feel like it's our destiny to win here,” Howard said.
USA 2, Mexico 0. It was written.