Clint Dempsey’s penalty miss in the dying moments of the United States National Team’s 2-0 victory over Mexico Tuesday night carried an overwhelming sense of poetry and fate.
A conversion from Dempsey would have made the final score 3-0. Three-nil is a thumping in soccer — a thorough, convincing, deserved scoreline. Three-zero is a blowout. If the USA had defeated Mexico 3-0, that’s a certain kind of dreamland for US fans that has never been attained in a competitive match outside of the old, long forgotten US Cup.
But as great as 3-0 would have been, 2-0 is better. For we Americans, 2-0 is our score. Dos a cero. Time after time. It’s the scoreline that hurts Mexico most. It’s the scoreline that the legions of American supporters sang throughout the night. Dos a cero. We own it. In Columbus, we own Mexico. Three-nil would have been awesome. Two-zero is perfect.
The irony of Dempsey’s penalty miss wasn’t lost on anyone in Crew Stadium. It was the first thing mentioned by Bob Ley after the match. The USA has beaten Mexico in Columbus by a scoreline of two goals to nil in a World Cup qualifier in Columbus every time they’ve played since 2001, and most importantly in the World Cup knockout stage in 2002.
On the face of it, it’s just another dos a cero. Sweet, but not unique. A deeper dive is required to see how improbable and amazing this 2-0 win was.
For years, the USA has closed the gap with Mexico. Both teams can be considered shoe-ins for the World Cup, and both teams have dominated their bitter rival at home over the last two decades.
But in the last two years, Mexico took off. A “golden generation” of young Mexican players with bags of pace, ability, and cohesion blew the US out in the 2011 Gold Cup Final at the Rose Bowl, and beat mighty Brazil to 2012 Olympic gold.
Meanwhile, the US sacked Bob Bradley, and struggled to adapt to Jurgen Klinsmann, trudging through a disappointing 2012. Things came to a head in March 2013.
The United States went down to a defeat in San Pedro Sula in their first World Cup Qualifier against Honduras, and in the aftermath of the game, an article was published by Brian Straus that quoted players in the US team and other team sources about the overall incompetence of Klinsmann as a national team manager.