Feliz Cumpleaños a Ti, Dos a Cero
Where were you on Feb. 11, 2009? Chances are you were either posted up in front of your TV, getting ready to watch the USA open the final round of World Cup qualifying, or if you were lucky enough to score a ticket (and determined to brave some intense conditions) then you were making your way to Columbus Crew Stadium to watch the MNT take on Mexico.
Six years ago today, the USA beat Mexico 2-0 in Columbus, setting Bob Bradley's team on the path to an eventual first-place finish in the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying final round group. An excellent team performance was punctuated by goals in each half from Michael Bradley as the USA earned a deserved victory against their regional rivals.
In addition to the familiar scoreline, the game was memorable for many other reasons: the eerie thunderstorm before the game, the incredible support from U.S. fans, and the sense of accomplishment at foiling Mexico yet again in the fortress of Crew Stadium.
We asked a few players who were involved that night to reminisce about that memorable night. The first thing Brian Ching mentioned was the weather, not surprising for the native Hawaiian. "I remember it was freezing," said Ching, who put in a workman-like shift up top alongside Landon Donovan. "We had been preparing for a long time, and we came out extremely determined. There is always a lot of hype around a Mexico game. We knew what we needed to do, and we got it done.”
"It was an important win for us, starting us off on the right foot in the final round of qualifying."
Fresh off a hat trick against Sweden, midfielder Sacha Kljestan started in the center of the park for the USA, and he too recalled the special atmosphere that night.
"I was glad to be a part of the team that day. I remember coming out for warm-ups and seeing all our fans behind the goal in red," said Kljestan. "It was great to have so much support. It was a pretty exciting match to play in Columbus, which is kind of like a home stadium for us and a place where we've played some pretty important games."
Kljestan's midfielder partner Michael Bradley put in two goals on the night, the second coming in second-half stoppage time. The shot from distance that squirmed past the hapless Oswaldo Sanchez sealed the win for the USA.
"Both goals that Michael scored that day were great, but the second one was the icing on the cake," said Kljestan. "I remember when that second goal went in celebrating with the rest of the team, realizing we had started off on the right foot and earned all three points."
Heath Pearce talked about the mood surrounding the game. A player with 29 international caps to his credit, Pearce described the game as a unique experience.
"Every international is important, but the whole buildup to USA-Mexico is so much more intense. it just feels different," said Pearce, who played 90 minutes in the victory. "You can feel the aura around the game and in the people you're with who have experienced it before. There are no games that prepare you for the intensity and tradition of a USA-Mexico game."
Pearce also remembered celebrating with teammates and fans after the hard-fought victory.
"The win was something we really earned and we worked hard as a team in sticking to our game plan that day. It was a great feeling to be able to do it in front of that many U.S. fans who were there supporting us and were so positive throughout the game. Sharing the win with them was amazing."
Though the U.S. had played one game before the match against Mexico, the 2-0 win in qualifying really set the tone for a successful year. Beating your biggest rival with the spotlight of the region shining brightly on Columbus, keeping yet another clean sheet at home, and enjoying the moment with the U.S. faithful provided the perfect foundation for a memorable 2009 for the national team. Three hundred and sixty-five days later, we can look back on the first place finish in qualifying and say that the win against Mexico was the catalyst.