AWESOME GAME! This begins the first of ten brutal final games that will determine which three teams from the CONCACAF region go to World Cup 2002. It is critical the U.S. do well, but fifteen minutes into the game, our best striker, Brian McBride, had to be taken out of the game with an injury. He’d bonked heads with a Mexican player and his right eye swelled up horrendously — I’ve never seen anything like it. His eyebrow was the size of a baseball, swollen so big it closed his eye and he couldn’t see. A half hour after that, the engine of the American team, Claudio Reyna, had to be taken out because of a groin strain. Terrible, just terrible, and Mexicans were really pressing the U.S. Remember, in international play only three substitutions are allowed per team per game, and we’d used two in the first half. The game was played in Columbus, Ohio, in twenty degree weather, and it sure looked like doom was in the air. But just two minutes into the second half, the two substitutes worked major. Clint Mathis, of the New York/New Jersey Metrostars, put in a fantastic 50-yard ball over the back line of the Mexican defense. Speedster Josh Wolff, in terrific form at the Olympics in Australia, burned up the track, rushing past the defenders to grab the ball and run upfield. Mexican keeper Jorge Campos raced out to stop him, but wasn’t quick enough to beat Wolff. Wolff’s touch bounced the ball against Campos and came back, hitting Wolff and going forward. It was a bit of luck and a bit of opportunism, but Josh did well to grab the loose ball and coolly put it in the back of the empty goal. The U.S. led 1-0. After that the Mexicans went all out to defeat the U.S. The took off defenders and put in attackers, and pushed and pushed, but the U.S. held well. A couple of times Brad Friedel, the American keeper, had to make a save, but the U.S. defense was so good he really wasn’t tested. Still, in such a close game, anything can happen, and the packed stadium held their breath for 42 minutes. That’s when Mathis and Wolff combined again, with another long ball and Wolff running toward the corner flag, obviously attempting to waste time. But suddenly he broke free, miraculously dribbling out of a maze of Mexican defenders and running up the end line toward the goal. His sidefooted pass was glorious, perfectly placed, splitting the Mexican defenders, and going right into the path of the onrushing Ernie Stewart. Stewart didn’t waste his opportunity — he just blasted it into the goal. Wow, not only was the U.S. winning, they were winning well. And this was without two of our key players! Amazing, and a real triumph of American soccer. It might be premature or overkill to say it, but from what I saw, this game marks a new day in American soccer. A decade from now we just might look back at this game as being the start of something amazing. From the Olympics to the full national squad, young Americans are proving that they can play the world’s game. Remember, this wasn’t a Sunday match-up: World Cup qualifying games are taken extremely seriously around the world. To put this in perspective, in 90 World Cup qualifiers Mexico has only lost 10 times. Think about that! And make it eleven. Final: 2-0 U.S.A.