Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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Three thoughts from the USA's 2-0 win over Mexico, which - combined with Panama's draw with Honduras - has ensured the USA will qualify for next summer's World Cup:
1. You can't beat the poetry of yet another "Dos a Cero." That's now four consecutive 2-0 home wins over Mexico in World Cup qualifying. The USA supporters unveiled three enormous banners before the game, commemorating the 2001, 2005, and 2009 wins; they'll have another to add for 2017, when the USA returns to Columbus to play Mexico (a location that's not decided but is absolutely certain).
The Americans really had only a handful of chances; Eddie Johnson's solid header from the USA's first corner was denied in the first half, but he made no mistake with the team's second corner, powering home for the first American goal. The USA's second was created out of nothing, with some quick feet from substitute Mix Diskerud, who found a sliver of space through which to thread a ball that Clint Dempsey just missed turning home, but which rolled through for Landon Donovan to prod into the roof of the net.
Dempsey missed a penalty with the final kick of the match. I don't mean to suggest that he did it just to preserve the happy poetry of a fourth straight 2-0 win, but I think I'd like him more if he did.
2. What has happened to Mexico? Where is the swashbuckling side that effervescently destroyed the USA 4-2 in the 2011 Gold Cup final? The squad whose youngsters took home the Olympic gold medal last summer? That battered the USA for almost the entire 90 minutes in a 0-0 draw just last March?
Wherever they've gone, they don't appear to be coming back. Throughout the game, Mexico completely refused to press the USA back four; even after the Americans made mistakes playing the ball in defense, the Mexicans sat back and completely ignored the ball once the USA had taken possession. At times, it looked like a rule had been passed that banned the Mexico forwards from pressuring American defenders. It bordered on the absurd; at least once, Donovan, having won the ball in his own half, just stood on the ball calmly as Mexicans walked past him, back to their own half, heads down, not looking at the ball at all.
At the rare times that Mexico committed players forward - for much of the first ten minutes, and occasionally in the second half - the USA would get completely stuck, unable to get the ball out of defense without hoofing it into the crowd. Why they refused to get forward more often, I'll never understand. It's not as if the USA were rampaging forward on counter-attacks.
For USA fans, beating Mexico has always been a joy, not least because it seemed so impossible. Year after year, Mexican sides were simply better, more put together, more able to attack remorselessly and tirelessly, over and over again. This time, Mexico just seemed sad - a little pathetic, even, like someone who's been yelled at one too many times to ever completely meet your eye during a conversation again.
3. Jürgen Klinsmann has now been completely vindicated. In mid-March, the Sporting News published a piece that called into question virtually everything about Klinsmann's tenure as USA head coach. Klinsmann was judged by former and current players to completely lack any tactical sense, to spend too much time on off-the-field efforts, and to change lineups too often.
Since then, the USA squad has won the Gold Cup, established a record for their longest-ever winning streak at twelve games, and now, earned qualification for the World Cup with two matches to go. Not only that, he's never lost to Mexico, with a draw and a win in the World Cup and the USA's first-ever win in Mexico City to his credit.
I'm certain that there are critics and doubters left among the USA fanbase, but it's impossible to argue with results. All that's left for Klinsmann is his chance, next summer, to lead his team to success in the World Cup. If he can do that - however you might define success on the world stage - the German will certainly be recognized as the best coach in USA history.
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