The USA's 2-0 victory over Mexico and Gabriel Torres's late equalizer for Panama against Honduras half an hour later, meant that the USA and Costa Rica confirmed their World Cup places for Brazil.
Costa Rica looked to be still a mathematical fluctuation or two away from qualifying with Honduras leading Panama deep into injury time, but that Torres goal had a knock on effect of putting Costa Rica safely through, while the two Honduras had already scored, plus the two Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan got for the USA in their win, meant that their win and the Honduras/Panama tie put the US over the top.
Klinsmann's methods rewarded
In the Gold Cup one of the subplots of the USA's win was Jurgen Klinsmann's knack for timely substitutions — the introductions of Brek Shea and Eddie Johnson brought vital goals for the team — in Johnson's case less than 30 seconds after he came on, with his first touch.
And against Mexico, Johnson was involved in another such switch. This time he was the departing player, leaving the game with a goal, an enhanced reputation, and a knock to the head for his troubles. In came Mix Diskerud — the attack-minded midfielder, who'd probably been, on balance, too much of a risk to put in alongside Jermaine Jones in the holding role Kyle Beckerman ended up occupying effectively. Instead Diskerud got his chance late on, with the US camped dangerously on the edge of their own box, at which time he did what comes naturally and got forward. Some neat touches with the ball on the right of the box and he was firing in a perfect low cross for Donovan to touch home the insurance goal, and indeed the goal that brought up another iconic Dos a Cero scoreline.
Klinsmann's dramatic switches are not limited to in-game though. Faced with three suspended players and the still injured Bradley to replace against Mexico, he could have chosen to simply plug those holes with as near like for like as he could muster. But Klinsmann didn't stop there. That cruelly exposed right flank from the Costa Rica game was overhauled too. Out went Zusi and Orozco, in came Alejandro Bedoya (for his first World Cup qualifier) and Fabian Johnson. And when Johnson went out injured at half time, in came Michael Parkhurst. As Donovan can testify, there are no favorites under Klinsmann, but as he can also testify there are no grudges either. And we're barely talking about the German-American contingent at this point, certainly not as the favored bloc or clique they were perhaps seen as at the start of the year. The lesson from Klinsmann's selection policy so far it seems, is that he will always give players chances, but having done so he expects them to take them.
Mexico were not just waiting to find their form
For 20 minutes or so against the USA, Mexico looked recognisable as the team whose forward movement, technical ability with the ball at their feet, and vision to split and get in behind defenses, has long been the tormenter of the USA's rather more earnest "Run fast, work hard" ethic. Dos Santos and Hernandez were getting in behind, Guardado was cutting inside, and Gimenez was sending through balls in that probed at the makeshift US central defensive pairing of Gonzalez and Goodson right where it was most dangerous — in and around their feet, and in the area between them and the goalkeeper.
It looked like a successful gameplan, but Mexico didn't score in that dominant period, and almost from the first US counter attack you could see them second-guessing. The game became scrappy and by the second half, the early nervous passing and giveaways from the USA had become instead a hallmark of the Mexican team, particularly as the early second half Eddie Johnson goal played into the fatalistic narrative that has enveloped Mexico during this campaign. And even when the US invited them on by dropping deeper, Mexico couldn't take advantage. Everybody went hiding, another goal killed the game, and Luis Fernando Tena looked sick on the sidelines — probably knowing that his slim chances of turning his interim coaching position into a full-time job had left the building, only three days after his former boss "Chepo" Jose Manuel de la Torre had finally been fired.
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