Landon Donovan, celebrating another goal, scored against Mexico in the 2002 World Cup. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
Today is the 19th anniversary of the USMNT’s 2-0 win over Mexico at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea.
JEONJU, South Korea — When the U.S. national team takes on Mexico, both sides usually find themselves in a rut.
When the Americans host, they usually win. When the Mexicans play at home, they almost always to prevail.
So, to determine which team is better would take a neutral site. Some seven years ago one was found — in a rare CONCACAF confrontation in the second round of the 2002 World Cup.
In this encounter, the United States stunned Mexico, 2-0, in the most important match of the 68-year rivalry between the two countries. Brian McBride and Landon Donovan scored goals on June 17, 2002 to propel the Americans into the quarterfinals against Germany.
The win also was significant in that it was the first time the U.S. has won a single-elimination game in World Cup history. It also was the U.S.’s first World Cup shutout since a 1-0 upset of England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.
“It was tough getting our guys back from the game on Friday,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said, referring to a 3-1 loss to Poland]. “We had to go with a lineup that made sense for our guys to endure over 90-95 minutes. Our guys left everything on the field today. They played great; I’m proud of them … It’s a great day for U.S. Soccer.”
The U.S. has won five of the last six matches against the Mexicans and improved to 10-28-9 all-time against the Tricolores. The U.S. also defeated Mexico earlier this year, a 1-0 win in Denver on April 3.
Missing two starters – defenders Jeff Agoos (calf injury) and Frankie Hejduk (yellow card accumulation) – from the loss to Poland, the U.S. began the match with an unusual 3-5-2 formation that allowed defender Gregg Berhalter, midfielder Eddie Lewis and forward Josh Wolff to get their first starts of the World Cup.
“Well, it was a hard-fought match,” Arena said. “We were coming off a disappointing loss, in the last game we played against Poland. We had a short period of time to rest. We needed to get our guys to get ready to play, come up with the game plan, allow them to endure for over 90 minutes. Our guys executed it beautifully, played well against a great Mexican team, who has impressed everyone at the World Cup so far.”
The game was a physical affair as referee Vitor Melo Pereira (Portugal) handing out 10 yellow cards — five to each team — and one red card — to Mexico’s Rafa Marquez in the 88th minute.
“It’s a rivalry,” Arena said. “We know each other. There’s been a lot of bad blood over the years.”
Asked if he thought the U.S. was lucky, Arena replied, “I don’t know if we were lucky. We beat the group winner of the group with Italy. We beat one of the top five teams in the world. . . . Then we got a point with Korea, the host country, which no one else has been able to do. We’ve had some impressive results in this World Cup. I wouldn’t call that lucky, I think we have a good team. We will prove that we have one of the great teams in the world with Germany.”
The U.S. came out and struck first to establish an early lead. The quick combination play started on the right flank with U.S. captain and midfielder Claudio Reyna, who raced down the right flank, beat a defender and dribbled toward the endline to draw two more Mexican defenders. Reyna laid the ball off to Wolff at the corner of the six-yard box. Wolff tapped the ball back to an unmarked McBride in the middle of the box, where he blasted a shot through three lunging defenders and past airborne Mexico goalkeeper Oscar Perez in the eighth minute.
“It was such a great feeling to get a goal so early in the game and put the pressure on them [Mexico],” Reyna said. “They had to step it up a notch and I think they exerted a lot of energy to get one back.”
With Mexico continuing to own the majority of possession in the second half, it took a counterattack for the U.S. to increase its lead to 2-0. Reyna started the play in the U.S. half, sending a looping long ball to the left flank, where Lewis made a run. Lewis gathered the ball before sending a perfect cross to the far post, where Donovan snuck behind two Mexican defenders and nodded home a header past Perez in the 65th minute.
United States: Brad Friedel; Gregg Berhalter, Eddie Pope, Tony Sanneh; Pablo Mastroeni (Carlos Llamosa, 92), Eddie Lewis, Claudio Reyna, John O’Brien, Landon Donovan; Brian McBride (Cobi Jones, 79), Josh Wolff (Earnie Stewart, 59).
Mexico: Oscar Perez; Salvador Carmona, Rafael Marquez, 5-Manuel Vidrio (Sigifredo Mercado, 46); Ramon Morales (Luis Hernandez, 28), Braulio Luna, Joahan Rodriguez, Gerardo Torrado (Alberto Garcia Aspe, 78), Jesus Arellano; Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Jared Borgetti.