COLUMBUS, Ohio – Clint Dempsey didn't miss the penalty kick on purpose.
At least, that's what he said after the US national team's 2-0 win over Mexico at Crew Stadium on Tuesday, a result that could have ended 3-0 when the Yanks captain was chopped down in the penalty box by Mexican midfielder Jesús Zavala in injury time.
But Dempsey, seemingly the most cold-blooded assassin in the USMNT player pool, rifled his spot kick a foot or so wide of goalkeeper Jesús Corona's left-hand post just before the final whistle to extend his team's eerily consistent history – four straight World Cup qualifiers over 12 years – of two-goal wins in central Ohio over their fiercest rivals.
“Nah, I always try to score,” he told MLSsoccer.com in the postgame mixed media zone. “I was a little bit tired, but I've converted on three [USMNT PKs] and that's the first one I've missed. Obviously that's frustrating, that would've been nice, an icing on the cake for me tonight. But the most important thing is we won, and I'm happy with that.”
That's not to say that the thousands of fans – and maybe even a few players, on both sides – who have come to view the Columbus “dos a cero” legend in supernatural terms will take his word for it.
It's a testament to how good the USA's night was that Dempsey's miss seemed to bring more joy to the overflow, overwhelmingly pro-US crowd than a successful conversion to pad the scoreline.
“It's this mystical thing, right? It's like this ghost,” said midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. “Clint missed that penalty and it's like something that's haunting, that happened on purpose.”
Kyle Beckerman laughed out loud at the idea that his Texan teammate might've meant to aim his PK wide in order to prolong the legend.
“I mean, I really would've liked – we all would've wanted – to win 3-0, I think. But it just seemed right that it was 2-0,” the Real Salt Lake star said with a smile.
The historic scoreline certainly has its effect on El Tri. Mexican heads dropped immediately when Eddie Johnson thumped a header past Corona in the 49th minute, and as constant chants of “Dos a cero!” rang out across the stadium, there was only token doubt about the final result.
And when Landon Donovan stabbed home the game-clinching goal half an hour later, many members of the Mexican media immediately began packing up and exiting the press box with a resigned air.
“When we scored that first goal, you could see it on Mexico's face,” said US defender Omar Gonzalez. “They were really defeated and the fans started chanting 'dos a cero,' and from that point on we really took control of the game.
“Playing here in Columbus is really special.”
Dempsey cracked a brief grin when told about Bedoya's ghost theory.
“Yeah, maybe, you never know, bro!” he said. “It's cool. Hopefully it continues in the future. As long as we win it doesn't matter. I'll miss all the time.”