As a 13-year-old who grew up around the nascent Chicago Fire, Michael Bradley watched one February night as Josh Wolff and Chris Armas, players his father Bob coached with the MLS side, put in strong displays for the U.S. Men’s National Team who defeated Mexico 2-0 to open the Final Round of qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
For anyone who followed American soccer, the cold, wintry night was a special one as it signified a shift in U.S. matches against Mexico. Moreover, it showed how powerful a home-field advantage the U.S. could gain, and thus began tradition of the MNT’s home qualifying match against El Tri being played in Columbus, Ohio.On this day – February 11, 2009 -- nearly eight years on from that memorable night, Michael Bradley found himself lining up in the heart of central midfield, not far from where Armas did in 2001.
“I thought to myself that it was surreal,” Bradley told ussoccer.com. “At that point I’d played a friendly against Mexico in Houston, but it wasn’t the same. This is the real deal. I’m getting a chance to play in a qualifier against Mexico in Columbus and everything that means. In the build-up, I thought to myself that I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to make a difference in a game that I had watched on TV so many times.”
Perhaps channeling the 2001 match against Mexico, Bradley - like Wolff in that match - scored the game’s first goal. In the 43rd minute, DaMarcus Beasley swung his corner kick from the right to Landon Donovan at the back post. Donovan headed across goal for Oguchi Onyewu, whose snap header was denied by Oswaldo Sanchez, only to have Bradley there on the doorstep to clean up the rebound.
Both teams had chances in the second half, but the U.S. seemed to be in good shape when Rafa Marquez was sent off for maliciously cleating Tim Howard in the 65th minute. Of course, it couldn’t be a home match against Mexico without another goal, and it was Bradley who popped up again in stoppage time.
In the dying moments, Donovan effortlessly dribbled to the top of the box on the left before squaring a pass for Bradley, who tagged a first-time effort that skipped underneath Sanchez before hitting the back of the net. The goal confirmed the customary “Dos a Cero” result against Mexico -- the MNT’s sixth 2-0 win against El Tri since 2000.
And though Bradley has provided some big goals throughout his 111 U.S. MNT caps, that fateful night in Columbus is the lone game he’s brought home a brace. To do it against Mexico was all the more special.
“To be able to win a game and get off on the right foot in the Hexagonal and to get two goals against our biggest rivals in a game like that is unforgettable,” he said.