COLUMBUS, Ohio — The United States clinched its seventh straight World Cup appearance, beating Mexico 2-0 Tuesday night on second-half goals by Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan before a raucous red-white-and-blue-clad crowd that stood and chanted from start to finish.
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. Clint Dempsey got the slightest of touches as he slid into the goalmouth, and Donovan poked the ball in from 2 yards.
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.
The top three teams qualify, and the U.S. had to wait an hour after the final whistle to learn it was assured of a spot in the 32-nation field for Brazil next June. But when Honduras (3-3-2) held on for a 2-2 tie against Panama (1-2-5) in Tegucigalpa, the Americans had grabbed a berth with two games to spare.
Mexico (1-2-5) dropped into fifth on goal difference and seems likely at best headed to a playoff against Oceania champion New Zealand.
U.S. players, many carrying large American flags on sticks, celebrated their win with a lap around the field, saluting the crowd the whole way. Then they went to the locker room to wait out the Honduras game. About 1,000 fans stuck around to watch on the videoboard, chanting for Honduras.
Following wins over Mexico in qualifiers by identical 2-0 scores at Columbus Crew Stadium 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 “Dos a cero!” and “You're not going to Brazil!”
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.
Johnson 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 in 12th goal in 21 qualifying appearances. He was mobbed by teammates near the U.S. bench as fans set off a smoke bomb.
Donovan's goal, increasing his national team record to 57, set off a nonstop singalong for the closing minutes of the match.
Dempsey missed a penalty kick in second-half injury time, just before the final whistle.
Dealing with an injury to midfielder Michael Bradley and yellow-card suspensions of defender Matt Besler, midfielder Geoff Cameron and forward Jozy Altidore, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann had to make several changes from Friday's 2-1 loss at Costa Rica.
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 forward 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 goalkeeper Tim Howard to make several sprawling saves.
The first came seven minutes in, when American left back DaMarcus Beasley scuffed a clearance and nearly put the ball in his own goal.
Howard made a diving parry on Christian Gimenez in the 19th, and then two minutes later pushed Gimenez's free kick over the crossbar. Howard was forced into another diving save on Giovani Dos Santos in the 44th, and then dived to knock a header over the line in injury time after Bedoya pulled down Dos Santos with a sliding tackle, earning a yellow card.
The first good U.S. chance was when Donovan's free kick was knocked down Omar Gonzalez in the 14th, and Jermaine Jones volleyed over the crossbar.
Eddie Johnson's header off Donovan's corner kick was saved by Corona in the 32nd.