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Dos-A-Cero Part III – The Five Year Anniversary

“Before the game in the locker room, you looked around and you looked in everybody’s eyes and you knew that everybody was really excited to play; it was a big game. We stepped on the field and for 90 minutes were committed to do whatever it took for each other.”

So spoke a 21-year-old Michael Bradley in the aftermath of his two-goal, Man of the Match performance against Mexico in the USA’s first match of the 2009 Hexagonal.

Bradley, then an enterprising young midfielder for German Bundesliga climbers Borussia Monchengladbach, had just spurred the U.S. Men’s National Team to its sixth “Dos-A-Cero” victory against arch rival Mexico since the turn of the millennium and its third straight in World Cup Qualifying matches at Columbus Crew Stadium.

In the face of rainy, blustery conditions, a sell-out crowd arrived that night to lend boisterous support to the Men’s National Team, which needed a big save from goalkeeper Tim Howard on Giovanni Dos Santos from point-blank range to survive a nervous opening to the match.

Once the USA found its rhythm however, the team began to take control, finding space down the flanks for the overlapping runs of outside backs Heath Pearce and Frankie Hejduk. On the half-hour mark, Clint Dempsey pounced on a loose ball in the Mexico box to draw a brave stop from goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez, before Howard was called into action at the other end as the game opened up with the break approaching.

It was at that critical stage, Bradley drew first blood. A barnstorming run from local, Columbus Crew favorite Hejduk earned the USA a corner that DeMarcus Beasley sent curling toward the back post for Landon Donovan to head back into the mixer. As the ball pinged around in front of Mexico’s net, Bradley was first to stick out a boot and knock the ball into the goal and the USA into the lead.

On the other side of half time, the match, which was a civil affair on the whole, took a nasty turn just after the hour mark. In the wake of his team’s best scoring chance of the game, Mexico center back Rafael Marquez made a reckless, studs-up challenge on Howard when the American goalkeeper ventured to claim a cross into the middle of his penalty area. As the ensuing flash point roiled around him, referee Carlos Batres brandished Marquez with a straight red card, bringing to an end the Mexico captain’s evening and his team’s chances of drawing back into the match.

From that point, the USA methodically closed out the game before Bradley hammered home the final nail in the coffin. Two minutes into added time, Jozy Altidore, playing in the first Hexagonal match of his career, sent Donovan free down Mexico’s right flank. With a pair of defenders closing in, Donovan smartly held the ball up and found the late run of Bradley, who took one touch before blasting a dipping drive beneath Sanchez from 25 yards out.

“I think he was fantastic aside from the goals. He was up and down the field, side to side, steaming into tackles, winning balls, collecting second balls , winning balls without fouling, which is important; he did everything right,” said Howard of his center midfielder outside the stadium after the victory. “We all trust in the relationship we have with Michael as a teammate.”

In the ensuing matches of the Hexagonal, the U.S. MNT went on to earn a 6-2-2 record and finish atop the CONCACAF standings in the final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.