Columbus has a special place among U.S. Soccer. Since 2001, every home World Cup Qualifier against Mexico has been played at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus. On Friday, the USMNT and Mexico will kick off the Hex and face off for the fifth consecutive time in Columbus. The previous four times, the United States won by the all too familiar “dos a cero” scoreline. Just how has the United States been able to do this, let’s take a look back.
2002 World Cup – February 28, 2001 – Goalscorers: Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart
Back when Brad Friedel had hair and players preferred to wear their kits two sizes too big. The USMNT’s history with Columbus began in 2001. Just like in this cycle, the United States and Mexico kicked off the Hex by playing first so things started in a very old Columbus Crew Stadium. One of the most memorable parts of the game was that in the early stages, Brian McBride was head butted after going for a header. With his right eye immediately bruised and without the ability to see, Josh Wolff entered the game.
After a scoreless first half, the substitute Wolff within minutes after the second half began. Fooling the Mexican backline, Wolff was 1v1 and after he beat the goalkeeper, it was just simply putting the ball into an open net. An Earnie Stewart goal late in the game sealed the win and a tradition began.
Mexico and the United States would tie at the conclusion of the Hex with 17 points each and Mexico earning 2nd with the United States 3rd due to goal differential.
2006 World Cup – September 3, 2005 – Goalscorers: Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley
Following the on and off field success of the USMNT in Columbus in 2001, U.S. Soccer decided to grant the city the Mexico qualifier once again. A bit warmer for this than in 2001, the USA took advantage of set pieces and mistakes to defeat Mexico.
First, Steve Ralston scored, heading in a rebound from a free kick in the 53rd minute. Then five minutes later, a lack of communication among Mexico caused Landon Donovan to bust in and almost pulled off a slick move on goal. But on the ensuing corner kick, DaMarcus Beasley crafted a brilliant setup to score and finish with a 2-0 win for the second consecutive time.
Mexico and the United States would also tie this World Cup cycle but it was the USA winning the Hex with 22 points based on head-to-head result. USA lost 2-1 at the Estadio Azteca and the aggregate score was enough.
2010 World Cup – February 11, 2009 – Goalscorer: Michael Bradley
Michael Bradley isn’t quite known as a prolific goalscorer but when the situation called, Bradley seemed able to at least be at the right place to contribute to a goal. Right before halftime, Bradley was right in front of the goal on a corner kick and after the ball bounced around, it fell right to Bradley and he scored.
Bradley’s second goal was from distance. From far outside the box, Bradley shot low and hard and went through to the goal. Bradley preserved the 2-0 scoreline in the final minutes and it has been his only multi goal game with the USMNT.
The United States would finish top of the group en route to South Africa. Winning with 20 points compared to runner-up Mexico with 19, the USMNT began their year on a high,
2014 World Cup – September 10, 2013 – Goalscorers: Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan
Whether or not this was intentional to keep up the 2-0 tradition, this was the game in which Clint Dempsey had a final second penalty kick to go up 3-0 and missed when he hit the crossbar. I’d like to think that since Dempsey is a competitor and every competitor wants to score goals and do their best, he was trying to score. But the story sounds better if he intentionally missed so they would win 2-0.
Anyway, set pieces ruled once again (noticing a trend) as Eddie Johnson headed in the corner kick. And then Landon Donovan finished off Mexico with a sliding goal to win 2-0 for the fourth consecutive time.
While the United States won the group again, Mexico struggled. For the first time since being banned from qualifying for the 1990 World Cup that there was a chance Mexico wouldn’t qualify. By the skin of their teeth, Graham Zusi bailed out Mexico with a last minute goal against Panama on the final night, clinching Mexico the 4th and final spot after beating New Zealand in the final intercontinental round.
So what are we going to see Friday? Starting out with Mexico and Costa Rica this month, they are facing the toughest start out of all teams in the Hex. A win in Columbus, like the last four times, will go a long way if the USMNT want to go to Russia in 2018.