U.S. clinches World Cup berth against Mexico

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U.S. clinches World Cup berth against Mexico

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 over.

And 2-0 it was.

The United States clinched its seventh straight World Cup appearance, getting second-half goals from Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan on Tuesday night for the now traditional 2-0 home qualifying win 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," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "You almost feel like it's our destiny to win here."

Noisy American fans stood and sang in Columbus Crew Stadium starting 1 hours before kickoff, and about 1,000 stayed for an hour after the final whistle. The U.S. needed a win or a tie from Honduras against Panama to clinch with two games to spare, and the American supporters watched on the videoboard 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 came back on 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," American captain Clint Dempsey said.

Following wins over Mexico in qualifiers by identical 2-0 scores at Columbus in 2001, 2005 and 2009, the U.S. Soccer Federation picked the same venue for this year's match. The capacity crowd of 24,584 taunted the Mexicans with chants of "You're not going to Brazil!"

"Amazing, amazing crowd," Klinsmann said. "Kind of pushed these guys."

Fans were so loud during "The Star-Spangled Banner" that anthem singer Kayleigh Schofield was forced to alter her tempo to match that of the crowd.

"I think it really got into Mexico's head, especially when we scored that first goal. You could see it on Mexico's face. They were really defeated," American defender Omar Gonzalez said. "From that point on we really took control of the game."

After withstanding Mexican pressure for the first 20 minutes, the U.S. settled in the match and 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 Mexican shifting to an offense-minded 3-4-3 formation, the U.S. scored in the 78th following a throw in when Mix Diskerud threaded the ball across the middle. Dempsey got the slightest of touches as he slid into the goalmouth, 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 tie 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 next June. Panama moved ahead of Mexico (both 1-2-5) on goal difference for fourth place, which advances to a playoff against Oceania champion New Zealand.

"This a team that could and should play better," said Luis Fernando Tena, who replaced Chepo de la Torre as Mexico's coach following 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."

Johnson, starting because of Jozy Altidore's suspension for yellow-card accumulation, 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. took just 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," Johnson said. "I was very fortunate it went in."

Donovan, his right eye squinting because of conjunctivitis, increased his U.S.-record goals total to 57, set off a nonstop singalong for the closing minutes of the match.

"You see it when we came in the stadium. It was rockin' already," Donovan said. "That's a real atmosphere. That's what we face when we go away, and it's nice that other teams have to face it when they come here."

And Mexico now has a tough challenge, hosting Panama on Oct. 11 before closing four days later at Costa Rica.

"They looked relatively timid and shy throughout. I've never seen a Mexico team look that way," Donovan said.

Dealing with an injury to midfielder Michael Bradley and yellow-card suspensions that also included defender Matt Besler and midfielder Geoff Cameron, Klinsmann had to make several changes from Friday's 3-1 loss at Costa Rica -- which ended the Americans' team-record 12-game winning streak.

Fabian Johnson shifted from midfield to the back line, and Clarence Goodson was among four new starters, joined by midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Alejandro Bedoya, and Eddie Johnson. Fabian Johnson strained his left hamstring and was replaced by Michael Parkhurst for the start of the second half.

Mexico dominated the first 20 minutes of the opening half and the last five, forcing Howard to make several sprawling saves.

"Once we weathered that storm, Mexico didn't have much in the second half," Gonzalez said.

Now the Americans can take it easy in the final two qualifiers, against Jamaica on Oct. 11 at Kansas City, Kan., and at Panama four days later. Exhibitions are likely at Scotland and Austria in November.

Klinsmann won the World Cup as a player with Germany in 1990 and coached his native country to the 2006 semifinals. He's lived in California for 15 years and understands the accomplishment.

As he spoke during his postgame news conference, he had a Starbucks cup in front of him, presumably filled with champagne.

"It's not Aquafina," he said, laughing.

Honest Haris Medunjanin gets D.C. United red card rescinded with fair play

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Honest Haris Medunjanin gets D.C. United red card rescinded with fair play

CHESTER, Pa. -- Sportsmanship isn’t dead. 
 
In the 74th minute of Saturday’s 1-0 Union win over D.C. United at Talen Energy Stadium, Luciano Acosta knocked midfielder Haris Medunjanin out of bounds. Trekking in from midfield, referee Sorin Stoica immediately threw up the red card to eject the United's Acosta from the match.
 
Moments later, play restarted with Acosta still in the game. 
 
"All I know is I saw the red card, turned around and next thing I know is he’s still on the field," Union center back Oguchi Onyewu said. 
 
The red card was pulled for what Stoica believed was Acosta kicking Medunjanin. Unaware that the referee could even rescind the card, the Union man honorably disputed the kick and Stoica pulled the ejection.
 
"I rescinded the card because [Medunjanin] stated that he was not kicked after the play, which was the initial decision I made," Stoica told a pool reporter.
 
Medunjanin explained his side.
 
"I saw the red card and spoke with Acosta and he was saying that he didn’t kick me," he said. "I said I didn’t feel it also. I went to the referee and he said, 'did he kick you?' and I said, 'no he didn’t kick me, I think it was just a push.' That’s why it was no red card for me." 
 
He then took a shot at New York Red Bulls player Felipe, who drew a red on the Union’s Derrick Jones last Sunday in what the club believed was a dive.
 
"I hope Felipe was watching from last week," Medunjanin said. "I wish he could say the same. I think you need to be honest and I felt like it was just a push."

Union manager Jim Curtin, who admitted he may not have been so honorable in Medunjanin's position, was proud of his player. 

"It’s not a red card, and I have to give a lot of credit to Haris," he said. "He’s a person that I respect a great deal. It’s an incredible act. I think it’s something you could show to not just young kids but also a lot of the adults that play in professional soccer because what he did is very honorable. It’s the right thing to do."
 
While fair play Medunjanin gained respect from Curtin and United coach Ben Olsen, who called him a “classy player and classy human being,” he was grilled by his teammates, who found the scenario humorous. 
 
"I don’t know whose team Haris is on, I really don’t," Onyewu said jokingly. "I don’t know if Haris and the referee or Haris and Acosta are actually best friends, I don’t know. Maybe they are going out later tonight and they didn’t want any bad tension?"
 
They also found it perplexing.

"I didn’t think that was possible,” Medunjanin said, a sentiment echoed by Onyewu. “The referee chose to do it so you need to respect that. I can talk now and be honest. Maybe if it was a draw, it would’ve been a little different."
 
But it happened and Medunjanin can walk away with three points and an unofficial award for being a class act.

"Everybody said thanks for the fair play,” Medunjanin said. “Nice gesture of you and that’s it. The coach came over to speak with me and I said, 'no problem this is football. We fight for the three points, but we need to be honest.'"

Andre Blake's shutout helps give Union life with slump-busting win over D.C. United

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Andre Blake's shutout helps give Union life with slump-busting win over D.C. United

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union have life.

Fafa Picault netted his fourth of the season and Andre Blake cleaned up the rest as the Union snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating D.C. United, 1-0, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

“It was a much needed three points, especially after the last two games,” Union center back Oguchi Onyewu said. “I feel that despite the previous games, despite losing, we haven’t lost the spirit, we haven’t lost the camaraderie, we haven’t lost the fight. That was visual in our gameplay tonight.”

Picault brought Talen Energy Stadium to life in the 31st minute with a highlight reel goal.

From the midfield line, Ray Gaddis pushed the ball down the right side to Alejandro Bedoya into D.C. United territory. With possession on the fast break, Bedoya, who made his return after missing two games with a hamstring injury, launched a lofty cross that seemed to surprise the defenders, who failed to track trailing Picault’s one-hit drive that beat Bill Hamid for the 1-0 Union lead.

“In those cases, you just track it,” Picault said. “When the ball’s put in, our jobs as attackers if the ball is played off the right side, CJ has to be there and me coming off the left side, try to make a run in. It ended up falling onto my left foot. I think either of us would’ve put it in, but it came to me and I had to put a strong one on to put it on target and give it a chance to go in.

Then it was Blake’s turn to play the hero. 

In the 69th minute, Union center back Oguchi Onyewu was called for a handball in the box. Lining up for the kick, Lamar Neagle fired off a strong shot to the left that was stopped confidently by diving Blake, keeping the Union’s lead alive.

“I decided I was gonna go to my right,” Blake said. “I saw a few cues from him and I made up my mind. I went there and I made the save.” 

Blake would punish Neagle again with another eye-popping save in the 90th minute. The goalkeeper brought the crowd to its feet with a leaping stop off a point-blank header from the top of the crease. 

“We created a penalty kick, plenty of looks, bunch of service in the second half,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “We revved them up a little at halftime. We had more life from the get-go but they made the play.”

Blake would finish with the four-save shutout.

“Incredible,” Picault said of Blake. “He’s for me by far the best goalie in the league. I’m really happy to have him on our side. Every week, week in and week out, he’s shown great performances. It’s emotional for me during the games to watch that. It gives me a lot of motivation to keep going. Especially on that PK stop.”

But the match wasn’t without referee drama. With the Union, now 5-7-4, in full control late in the second half, referee Sorin Stoica handed United midfielder Luciano Acosta a straight red for taking down and kicking Haris Medunjanin. However, the card was completely rescinded moments later.

Why? Medunjanin came clean that Acosta didn’t kick him after the play.

“I do commend him and give him credit,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Crazy situation because all of us on the sidelines were not sure what was going on. I never have seen a red card and then it rescinded. We couldn’t figure out what was happening on our end. Very noble and honorable thing to do for Haris.”