By Paul Kennedy
So what are the odds of Dos a Cero in Columbus four times in a row?
A lot better when Clint Dempsey misses a penalty kick.
Deuce will be forgiven for missing his spot kick he created himself in stoppage time. The fourth USA-Mexico qualifier was long since over by then. Indeed, it was over at the half. One team came out to play in the second half; the other didn't.
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The USA didn't play very well for the first half hour, rarely stringing two or three passes together, but El Tri couldn't take advantage of the chances the USA gave it. By the end of the first half, the USA showed signs of threatening as Eddie Johnson hit an open header off a corner kick right at keeper Jose Corona.
Corona would make sure Johnson wouldn't miss in the 49th minute when he made a misguided attempt at snaring Landon Donovan's corner kick
Johnson, who was starting up front because of the suspension of Jozy Altidore, had to later go off because he hit his head on the ground after being upended -- but his sub, Mix Diskerud, making his debut in the Hexagonal, came through to set up the second goal scored by Donovan.
REPLACEMENTS RESPOND. Johnson was one of four changes in the U.S. starting lineup from the team that lost to Costa Rica on Friday.
Clarence Goodson started at center back for the suspended Matt Besler, Alejandro Bedoya also made his 2013 Hexagonal debut, in place of Graham Zusi on the right side, and Kyle Beckerman moved into the hole left by Michael Bradley's injury before Friday's game in San Jose.
All responded with solid performances, nothing fancy but good enough to send the USA to the World Cup finals of the seventh straight time.
REALIGNED FRONTLINE. Johnson started up top with Dempsey behind him, more in keeping with how the USA has lined up this year, and it was a big improvement on Friday night when Dempsey and Donovan played alongside each other.
Again, there was nothing fancy from the U.S. frontrunners, but their hard work paid off as the USA won just about every 50-50 ball to take the game to a dispirited Mexico team.
Throughout qualifying, the USA has responded from disappointing games on the road -- 2-1 loss at Jamaica and a fortunate 2-1 win (thanks to a pair of EJ goals) at Antigua & Barbuda -- with much more composed efforts at home.
Jermaine Jones, who looked all out of sorts in San Jose, again started out nervously, but he grew in confidence as the game went on and teamed up well with Beckerman in midfield to shut down Mexico in the second half.
WHAT HAPPENED TO EL TRI?It's one of the great falls from graces in the history soccer. What happened to Mexico, which swept every game -- 12 in all -- in competitive play in 2011 and 2012 and won the 2012 London Olympics but now finds itself in fifth place -- yes -- in the Hexagonal with one win in eight games?
El Tri showed nothing in the second half after going behind. Its European-based stars Javier Hernandez and Andres Guardado were invisible. Only Giovani dos Santos of Mexico's big stars came to play, and he was effectively contained by the U.S. defense, just as Honduras had on Friday night in the Aztecazo that plunged El Tri into crisis.
Tuesday's loss and Panama's last-second tie at Honduras put Panama and Mexico even heading into their Oct. 11 showdown at Azteca Stadium, though the Canaleros have the edge on goals scored (7-9 to 4-6).
They then head separate directions for their Hexagonal finales four days later: Panama back home to the Estadio Rommel Fernandez to face the USA and Mexico to Costa Rica.
As it stands now, Mexico's fate -- whether it has to face New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff or head home in disgrace -- will depend in part on what the USA does.
How's that for drama to keep us watching through the end the Hexagonal?