The USA-Mexico match on Feb. 28, 2001, was the first of final round qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and one of the most highly anticipated of the hexagonal. While Mexico had historically dominated the series, recent results – including two victories for the United States in 2000 - had suggested the tide may be turning. The teams had previously met 19 times in World Cup qualifying, the U.S. holding a dismal 2-12-5 record. Seeking a rare home field advantage against El Tri, the U.S. Soccer Federation selected the intimate setting of Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, as the venue.
Hoping the atmosphere would be as welcoming as the weather inhospitable, the experienced U.S. team felt confident that an important three points at home were there for the taking. With former Crew forward Brian McBride returning to Columbus riding a four-game scoring streak and Ohio native Brad Friedel manning the nets, the USA’s 16-game home unbeaten run in qualifying appeared to be in good hands. What no one could predict was how huge the support of the U.S. fans would be that night, the role of two first-half substitutes, and what the result would mean to the course of U.S. Soccer history.
The starting lineups:
USA: Brad Friedel; David Regis, Jeff Agoos, Eddie Pope, Tony Sanneh; Cobi Jones, Chris Armas, Claudio Reyna (captain) Earnie Stewart; Brian McBride, Joe-Max Moore
Mexico: Jorge Campos; Claudio Suarez, Rafael Marquez, Alberto Macias, Salvador Carmona; Marco A. Ruiz, Pavel Pardo, German Villa, Braulio Luna; Luis Hernandez, Francisco Palencia
LITTLE DID YOU KNOW …
- Despite being the most memorable, this was not the USA’s first World Cup qualifier played at Crew Stadium. In fact, they played Costa Rica there in their last home qualifier of the semifinal round, a 0-0 draw on Oct. 11, 2000, in front of a sell-out crowd.
- Bruce Arena was originally meant to be prohibited from coaching the match. Having received a three-match suspension, the Mexico match would have been the third of his ban. The FIFA Disciplinary Committee reduced the sentence to two games, and he was able to be on the bench.
- Josh Wolff almost didn’t make the 18-man game day roster. His competition was Fire teammate Ante Razov. “We thought this was the type of game where his speed and quickness could be a factor, and he proved us right,” said Arena afterwards.
- Selected to the 24-man training camp roster were two 18-year-olds by the name of DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan. Beasley withdrew after picking up an injury, replaced by Bobby Convey.
SOME NOTES FROM THE TIC-TOC
-50’ to kickoff: Mexico chose not go through the pre-game warm-up, electing to remain in the rather confined space of the locker room.
Kickoff: A sell-out crowd of 24,624 were in the stands for the opening whistle, with temperature at kickoff registering 29 degrees Fahrenheit.
11: A head collision between Brian McBride and Rafael Marquez left McBride’s right eye swollen shut. He quickly heads to the sideline for treatment, and Josh Wolff immediately starts warming up.
15: Wolff replaces McBride, making his second ever appearance in a World Cup qualifier. Wolff was one of two goalscorers in the 2-0 victory on Oct. 25, 2000, against Mexico.
43: After limping through much of the first half, team captain Claudio Reyna leaves with a groin strain and is replaced by Clint Mathis. The U.S. has used two of three available substitutions before halftime.
47: After a quick turnover inside the U.S. half, Mathis drops a looping ball over top of the Mexican defense that fellow Georgia native Wolff chases down. Mexico goalkeeper Jorge Campos charges out, but Wolff wins the foot race and touches past the ‘keeper, depositing the ball into an empty net.
69: Francisco Palencia slips past David Regis and bears in alone on goal. He fires low and hard to the near post, but Brad Friedel reacts quickly and turns away Mexico’s best chance to even the score.
87: Pinned in along the right touchline and his back to the field, Wolff brazenly heels the ball between Claudio Suarez and Alberto Macias and spins toward goal. Racing down the endline, he sees two open players in Mathis and Earnie Stewart. With the table set, it’s Stewart who buries the USA’s second strike of the night to immortalize the 2-0 victory.
THREE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS
- The win marked the first time in U.S. history the team posted three consecutive victories against Mexico
- The win was the first in qualifying against Mexico since 1980
- The win extended the USA’s home unbeaten streak to 17 matches dating back to 1985
THEY SAID IT - THEN AND NOW
Feb. 28, 2001
“That was obviously a great win for the U.S. team. We really wanted to get three points today. We obviously faced a lot of adversity in the first half and had to make a couple changes, and I’m proud of how our team pulled together and did the job to get the victory.”
--U.S. head coach Bruce Arena
“I really think they made a difference for us in the game today. As you know, we rarely play the Mexican team in the U.S. and feel like the home team. If we don’t play well and don’t get the ball in the back of the net, the weather doesn’t mean a whole lot. But the fans really made a difference.”
--Arena on the fans
“Obviously we are happy with the result. I can’t say enough about the people who supported us here in Columbus. Everything here was a home-field advantage. Every person on the field and on the bench felt it.”
--U.S. defender Jeff Agoos
“That’s the thing about soccer, the game changes so quickly. You’re on the field with 11 players and suddenly two players have to get subbed out. Starting at home in a great atmosphere winning 2-0 with no goals against gives you a lot of confidence going into the next match.”
--U.S. midfielder and goalscorer Earnie Stewart
“I think the crowd helped us more than the weather did. That was a factor in the game. It would be great to play here a lot in the future.”
--U.S. goalkeeper and Bay Village, Ohio, native Brad Friedel
“It is tough to get out of a situation like that, but he was able to pull it off and get us a good cushion. If we don’t get that second goal there, anything can happen in the end. That was a huge play by Josh.”
U.S. midfielder Clint Mathis
Feb. 28, 2011
“It was the beginning of a shifting of the guards as far as our region and for qualifying. It’s something we’ve maintained and take great pride in as a country, as U.S. Soccer. Even though I’m not currently with the national team, those are the games that we look forward to watching, and as a player those are the games you look forward to being part of. It’s a good benchmark. It set the stage and helped us grow as a country and enhanced the rivalry to a new level.”
-- U.S. goalscorer and Man of the Match Josh Wolff
“I think it was a big turning point in our history, the moment you when decide you are not going to be second best anymore. You go punch for punch and refuse to lose. I think that day we no longer feared Mexico.”
-- U.S. defender Tony Sanneh