U.S. Soccer

2002 FIFA World Cup Qualifying Final Round

Josh Wolff and the Spark that Set the Dos a Cero Fire

Originally published on October 6, 2015.

When the schedule for the Final Round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup came around, the U.S. Soccer Federation had a different idea.

Drawn to play rivals Mexico first, and in February no less, U.S. Soccer decided to try and maximize home-field by taking advantage of the new phenomenon in the American game – the soccer specific stadium.

Columbus Crew Stadium (now MAPFRE Stadium) was the only one at the time, but with its smaller capacity and location in the heart of the Midwest, the venue proved a perfect spot for the U.S. to have its own unique home atmosphere in response to the heat, altitude and intensity that 100,000 fans at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City could provide. 

“It was a tremendous atmosphere,” remembered U.S. forward Josh Wolff. “It was brutally cold. We had a fantastic crowd and there was a lot to play for. Obviously it’s a qualifier, but it’s even bigger when you’re playing against Mexico. It couldn’t have been any nicer – a chilly night that the Mexican players probably didn’t enjoy, but for us, it was probably a bit of gamesmanship. I think we were excited about the idea of playing in front of our fans on a nice cold night where we could take advantage of it.”

Wolff didn’t start the match that night in late February 2001. When Bruce Arena selected him for the game-day 18, if he was to be used at all, the idea was more likely as a late-game sub.

After 15 minutes, things changed.

With Brian McBride’s right eye looking like he received a haymaker from Mike Tyson more than the clash of heads he took going up for a 50/50 ball, Wolff was called upon as his replacement and got his taste of the chippy nature in the match when he was shown a yellow card for a foul on Rafael Carmona in the 40th minute.

He was joined on the field just before halftime by an old, familiar face in Clint Mathis. Wolff’s former college teammate at the University of South Carolina was tapped to enter the game for Claudio Reyna, who pulled up with a groin injury after stepping to make a seemingly routine pass.

Having burned two subs to replace two of the side’s key players, Wolff and Mathis were certainly the unlikeliest of heroes for the second half, but they proved the odds wrong.

Just after the break, the South Carolina boys, who both hailed from neighboring Georgia, connected on what has become one of the more memorable goals in U.S. World Cup Qualifying history.

“The ball fell to Clint and Mexico was playing a pretty high line,” Wolff recalled. “Obviously I’d played with Clint for a number of years and we had a pretty good understanding of one another. It was just me taking a chance to run the line really well there.”

Mexico’s back line was so high that they were all pinching into the U.S. half of the field when Mathis quickly hit the ball into space for Wolff, who was a step inside the USA half of the midfield stripe.

“Clint hits a great ball over the top,” Wolff continued. “It’s a bit of a foot race with Jorge [Campos] and it was just one of those balls where it’s a 50/50 and I was able to come out with the other side of him. At that point, you just kind of roll it in the open goal and get on with the celebration. The goal was a scramble in the end, but it was a good way to start that game for me and helped fuel us the rest of the match.”

Read more
MNT Oct 18, 2016

Gallery: 2001 - Dos a Cero Begins

The FIFA World Cup Qualifier on Feb. 28, 2001 between the USA and Mexico before a raucous crowd at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio saw the USA beat their arch-rival 2-0 to start the "dos a cero" trend that would become so memorable over the next decade. Read more
MNT Sep 19, 2016

MNT vs. Mexico: Highlights - Feb. 28, 2001

Highlights from the USA's famous 2-0 victory against Mexico on Feb. 28, 2001. Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart got the goals in front of a packed pro-U.S. crowd at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Read more
MNT Feb 28, 2011

Schedule

Results

Date Matchup Result Venue Attendance Goal Scorers
MNT vs Trinidad & Tobago 0-0 D Hasely Crawford Stadium; Port of Spain, Trinidad 5,000
MNT vs Jamaica 2-1 W Foxboro Stadium; Foxborough, Mass. 40,483 Moore (2)
MNT vs Costa Rica 0-2 L Estadio Ricardo Saprissa; San Jose, Costa Rica 19,200 --
MNT vs Honduras 2-3 L RFK Stadium; Washington, D.C. 54,282 Stewart (2)
MNT vs Mexico 0-1 L Estadio Azteca; Mexico City, Mexico 110,000
MNT vs Trinidad & Tobago 2-0 W Foxboro Stadium; Foxborough, Mass. 31,211 Razov, Stewart
MNT vs Jamaica 0-0 D National Stadium; Kingston, Jamaica 35,000
MNT vs Costa Rica 1-0 W Arrowhead Stadium; Kansas City, Mo. 37,319 Wolff
MNT vs Honduras 2-1 W Estadio Olimpico; San Pedro Sula, Honduras 46,000 Stewart, Mathis
MNT vs Mexico 2-0 W Columbus Crew Stadium; Columbus, Ohio 24,624 Wolff, Stewart
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