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It was a cold night in central Ohio in late February of 2001 when Columbus Crew Stadium played host to a historic United States Men’s National Team match that would change the way fans viewed their fierce rivalry with fellow CONCACAF heavyweight Mexico.
The landscape was set; a World Cup qualifier in which a win would set the tone for the Stars & Stripes’ run to the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
In what has today become the most common scoreline in the history of the United States vs. Mexico, 2-0 was forever etched in Crew Stadium folklore on Feb. 28. It also became what American soccer fans from all corners of the country refer to as “Dos a Cero.”
With Mexico unbeaten in seven of the previous eight games, including four wins, the pressure was on the U.S. that night to bridge the gap between their rivals from the southern border or a considerably one-sided rivalry would never even out. What soon followed was the best run for the Americans in the history of the rivalry, losing only two of the country’s next 11 games against Mexico while winning six times.
The Dos a Cero result in 2001 marked a truly historic and memorable day in the rivalry, one that, it could be argued, changed the dynamic of the fixture forever. For the Stars & Stripes, it was the first time the U.S. had ever beaten Mexico three times in a row and marked the first time since 1980 they won a World Cup qualifier against CONCACAF’s dominant team.
On the night, goals came from first half substitute Josh Wolff (who would later become an assistant coach under Gregg Berhalter in Columbus from 2014-18) and Earnie Stewart, who was set up by Wolff.
“I think it will provide a real home-field advantage for our team… After weighing all these factors, we felt that Columbus is probably the best venue to give us the opportunity to win this important game,” U.S. head coach Bruce Arena said prior to the match.
The match itself was frigid and clearly affected the way the players grew into the game. In fact, it was so cold that Mexican media soon coined this specific fixture as “La Guerra Fria,” Spanish for “Cold War.” With the temperature dropping to below freezing just prior to the match, first half injuries to the Crew’s Brian McBride and veteran Claudio Reyna dealt huge blows to the United States early in the match.
That was not the case in the second half when the U.S. came out swinging. The game-winning goal came in the 47th minute when Wolff collected a long ball from fellow substitute Clint Mathis and slotted it past Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos for a 1-0 lead. The home side went up and never looked back.
The Americans doubled the lead in the closing stages of the match when Wolff squared a ball to Stewart for an open shot from inside the six-yard box in the 87th minute to clinch a 2-0 victory for the United States. This game became the first of four consecutive Dos a Cero results for the U.S. at Crew Stadium before Mexico clinched the country’s first ever win at the ground in November 2016 by a final score of 2-1.
However, history had already made its mark.
There was, of course, Dos a Cero victories in the rivalry previously (four for Mexico and two for the U.S.) with the most recent coming only four months prior in October at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California during a friendly. But the 2001 installment was a difference-maker for the U.S. national team and the game of soccer in the country. It showed that Mexico was not the only team that would don recognition in CONCACAF while giving the United State a much-needed home-field advantage at Crew Stadium.
“That was obviously a great win for the U.S. team. We really wanted to get three points today against a very fine Mexican team, and we did that,” Arena said. “We faced a lot of adversity in the first half and had to make a couple of changes, and I’m proud of the way the team pulled together at halftime, went out and did the job in the second half to get the victory.”
Read Massive Report’s previous Crew Stadium Moments