COLUMBUS, Ohio – For more than two hours, the red-white-and-blue-clad crowd stood and sang “Dos a cero! Dos a cero!” over and over.
And 2-0 it was.
The United States clinched its seventh straight World Cup soccer appearance, getting second-half goals from Eddie Johnson of Sounders FC and Landon Donovan for the now-traditional 2-0 home qualifying victory over Mexico.
“It’s become its own monster. People want to come to Columbus and see U.S.-Mexico. It’s almost like the mecca, really, for us,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “You almost feel like it’s our destiny to win here.”
Noisy U.S. fans stood and sang at Columbus Crew Stadium starting 1½ hours before kickoff, and about 1,000 stayed for an hour after the final whistle. The United States needed a victory or a tie from Honduras against Panama to clinch the 2014 World Cup berth with two matches to spare, and the U.S. supporters watched on the video board as the Catrachos held on for a 2-2 draw.
U.S. players crowded around a television in their locker room, and then sprayed bubbly and returned to the field to celebrate with the fans.
“It’s great to do it sooner than later, but to get it against your rival is even sweeter,” said U.S. captain Clint Dempsey, who plays for Sounders FC.
After withstanding Mexican pressure for the first 20 minutes, the U.S. team got the breakthrough in the 49th minute when Johnson outjumped defender Diego Reyes to meet Donovan’s corner kick 8 yards out and head the ball past frozen goalkeeper Jesus Corona.
With Mexico shifting to an offense-minded 3-4-3 formation, the United States scored in the 78th minute after a throw-in when Mix Diskerud threaded the ball across the middle. Dempsey got the slightest of touches as he slid into the goal mouth, and Donovan poked the ball in from 2 yards.
“Obviously this is a huge, huge evening for all of us,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “It’s a huge milestone whenever you make it to a World Cup.”
The U.S. (5-2-1) moved into first place in the North and Central American and Caribbean finals with 16 points, one ahead of Costa Rica (4-1-3), which was held to a 1-1 draw at last-place Jamaica and also clinched.
Honduras (3-3-2) is third with 11 points and on track for the region’s final automatic berth for the 32-nation field for Brazil in June. Panama moved ahead of Mexico (both 1-2-5) on goal difference for fourth place; the fourth-place team will advance to a playoff against Oceania champion New Zealand.
“This is a team that could and should play better,” said Luis Fernando Tena, who replaced Chepo de la Torre as Mexico’s coach after Friday’s 2-1 home loss to Honduras. “It has to take a step forward if we want to make it to the World Cup.”
After victories over Mexico in qualifiers by identical 2-0 scores in Columbus in 2001, 2005 and 2009, the U.S. Soccer Federation picked the same venue for this year. The crowd of 24,584 taunted the Mexicans with chants of “You’re not going to Brazil!”
Johnson nearly scored off Donovan’s cross in the third minute of the second half, but the pass was just ahead of him.
A minute later, the U.S. team took its second corner kick of the match.
Jermaine Jones and Johnson both broke in from behind the penalty spot, and Mexico was slow to react as Johnson scored his 12th goal in 21 qualifying appearances. He was mobbed by teammates near the U.S. bench as fans set off a smoke bomb.
“We’ve got some good height in the box, and this time I wanted to make sure I kept it down enough,” the 6-foot Johnson said. “I was very fortunate it went in.”
Donovan’s goal raised his national-team record to 57.
“I’m proud of this team,” he said. “ I’m proud to be a part of it.”
As Klinsmann spoke during his postmatch news conference, he had a Starbucks cup in front of him, presumably filled with champagne.
“It’s not Aquafina,” said Klinsmann, laughing.