Five things we learned from the U.S. qualifier win over Mexico
A postgame incident between Frankie Hejduk and a Mexican assistant escalated
Michael Bradley is proving his worth to the national team with each game
Goalie Tim Howard and defender Oguchi Onyewu are still the U.S.' best weapons
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Another World Cup qualifier vs. Mexico at Crew Stadium, another 2-0 U.S. win. Here are five things we learned from a game that opened with a torrential thunderstorm, continued with gale-force winds and concluded with a near-brawl outside the locker rooms.
1. These two teams still hate each other. All week, American and Mexican players alike tried to downplay the enmity between the archrivals. Landon Donovan had to repeat over and over again to reporters from South of the Border, "I don't hate Mexicans." When Carlos Salcido helped Frankie Hejduk up after a nasty collision into the end-line wall in the 42nd minute, it almost looked like the teams were ... becoming friends?
Then Rafa Márquez remembered he was Rafa Márquez, Enemy of the States. The Mexican captain viciously kicked out at U.S. keeper Tim Howard's thigh in the 67th minute, earning a red card and crippling his team's comeback chances in the late stages of the game.
But that was nothing compared to the scuffle after the game. Mexico assistant Paco Ramírez confronted Hejduk as both teams headed toward the their locker rooms, and gave the U.S. veteran a nasty slap to the face. Brian Ching stepped in with a shove to Ramírez, which began a pushing match that involved Mexican players Guillermo Franco and Israel Martínez and a couple members of the Mexican delegation that only ended when a half-dozen giant security guards had to step in to break it up. It may have been an episode of emotions running high after a big game, but you can bet players on both teams won't forget it, especially when the U.S. travels to Mexico City in August.
2. We need to stop questioning the appropriateness of Bob Bradley continuously calling his son up to the national team. The inclusion of Michael Bradley, not just at this level, but in central midfield -- arguably the most important position on the field -- has raised a lot of eyebrows. The coach has been summoning his son to the national team since he was named to the job more than two years ago -- when the younger Bradley was just 18 years old.
But the younger Bradley is proving his worth to the national team with each game. His pair of goals Wednesday night -- his fourth and fifth in 26 national-team appearances -- were cases of him being in the right place at the right time to make a play on the ball. But he was all over the field the entire night, making the little passes when they were called for and, on the other end of the ball, cutting off passing lanes and busting up the Mexican attack.
"He's been solid all year," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said of the Man of the Match. "Tonight, besides the goals -- those were good -- but he was solid in the midfield, breaking up plays. He and Sacha [Kljestan] worked well together, they covered a lot of ground. They won the midfield battle. Those are two young players in two very important positions."
3. Tim Howard and Oguchi Onyewu are still the best weapons the U.S. has. For all the ability of the Americans' attacking stars, it's still a case of the rhythm section outshining the lead guitar.
There isn't much that needs to be said for the American keeper -- Howard has become, in my mind, one of the top 15 netminders in the world over the past couple years. In his past 10 U.S. starts, he has allowed only four goals and is by far the most dependable player on the team. (That said, Howard will miss the U.S.' next qualifier at El Salvador on March 28 due to yellow-card accumulation, which could open the door for Brad Guzan to gain some valuable experience at this level.)
In front of Howard, the American man-mountain, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Onyewu, has become nearly unstoppable in central defense. He abused Mexico's attackers all game long, as he does against any opponent the U.S. faces. But more important, he has eliminated a lot of his propensity to over-commit, which was something that crept into his game in the months after the '06 World Cup. He has matured by leaps and bounds since then, and has a keen sense of where he needs to be in relation to oncoming attackers. The U.S. will need its brick wall over the coming months.
4. Sven-Göran Eriksson is going to fall on his sword again. First Manchester City, now Mexico. Sven is well on his way to getting fired from yet another job for not being able to do more than any human being can do. Mexico is a mess right now, winless in five straight games and lacking in inspiration.
But that's hardly Eriksson's fault. His team was missing three starters and another two regular contributors to injuries and suspensions, and the team is still reeling from Hugo Sánchez's firing last March. Mexico is lacking in stability and now likely will have its third coach in 11 months. That's not how you build a World Cup contender.