If the United States came of age in the '90s by qualifying for all three World Cups played -- hosting one, to boot -- and establishing itself as a globally relevant team for the first time in the modern era, the 2000s marked the America's rise to CONCACAF dominance and worldwide recognition.
If one thing most defined the decade, and the ascent of the U.S. as a soccer country, it was their rivalry with Mexico that could best be described with three words.
Dos. A. Cero.
Whenever the USA met Mexico at home in World Cup qualifying, they went to Columbus, Ohio, home of the country's first soccer-specific stadium. Each time, the USA came away winners. When Team USMNT met Mexico in the biggest match the two countries have ever played in a near 80-year rivalry -- the Round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup -- they came away winners. And, all four times, it came by the same score: 2-0.
2002 World Cup qualifying - February 28, 2001
The U.S. first made their statement to Mexico, and CONCACAF, on a frigid night in Columbus in front of what was maybe the first pro-American crowd the team had ever had. The Mexicans didn't even come out to warm up because they were so fazed by the temperatures in the teens and the match earned itself the nickname "La Guerra Fria" or "The Cold War."
Amazingly, it wasn't the cold that turned the match, but an injury to Brian McBride. A gash on his forehead and a swollen-shut eye forced the U.S. striker out of the match and could have been the end of the Americans' chances to turn the rivalry's tide. Instead, it just set the stage for Josh Wolff.
Wolff took over the match, getting in behind the Mexico defense just after the start of the first half with a perfectly timed run and gorgeous pass from Clint Mathis that left him 1v1 with Jorge Campos. Wolff won, sidestepping the keeper and finishing into the open net for the opener. But Wolff wasn't done, as he beautifully danced between two Mexican defenders in the 87th minute and fed Earnie Stewart to send 24,000 bundled Americans at Crew Stadium wild.
Columbus had become the de facto home for U.S. soccer, and Dos a Cero was born.
2002 World Cup - June 17, 2002
The U.S. claimed to have taken control of the rivalry with their win in Columbus, but the Mexicans argued that winning at home was just par for the course. Until they could win in Mexico, it didn't mean a thing.
The Americans qualified for the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup and Mexico awaited them. It was the biggest stage in soccer and on a neutral field. CONCACAF supremacy would be established in Jeonju, South Korea, in front of the entire world.
Mexico had the bulk of possession and were certainly the prettier team, but the U.S. was most effective. They were absolutely deadline on the counterattack, first using a gorgeous run by Claudio Reyna and layback by Wolff to feed McBride for a gimme goal. Beautiful midfield play notched the Americans a second goal, too, as John O'Brien hit a picture perfect ball for Eddie Lewis. His cross found a streaking 20-year-old by the name of Landon Donovan for a wide open header to book a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals.
Just for good measure, Rafael Marquez earned himself permanent villain status in the U.S. with a dirty late challenge and red card. The frustration of the Mexican side was evident -- their trump card on the U.S. was gone. The Americans were the kings of CONCACAF and the whole world watched it happen.
2006 World Cup qualifying - September 3, 2005
Nothing would top beating Mexico in the World Cup, but beating them in Columbus to clinch a spot in the World Cup would do just fine for the U.S. They knew three points would guarantee them a spot in Germany in 2006 and that's exactly what they did.
After the hulking Oguchi Onyewu got tangled with Jared Borgetti and then stared him down, it was clear the U.S. wouldn't back down (and had themselves a photo to define the cycle). All of their toughness and physicality hadn't delivered them a goal 52 minutes in, but then Onyewu and Steve Ralston sent the Crew Stadium crowd into a frenzy.
Lewis took a free kick that found the 6'5 Onyewu at the back post and, while his header clattered off the bar, it bounced right to Ralston on the goal line. A simple nod was all it took to get the ball over the line and once again in Columbus, the Americans were up 1-0.
It didn't take long for the U.S. to extend their lead as a clever short corner undid the Mexico defense. With the Mexicans pushing up after the short kick, Reyna slid the ball in for DaMarcus Beasley and he coolly slotted the ball home.
History had repeated itself: USA 2, Mexico 0. At the final whistle, the fireworks went off, the Americans poured onto the field and the Mexicans had to trudge to the locker room as losers once again while their rivals celebrated their trip to the World Cup.
2010 World Cup qualifying - February 11, 2009
The qualifying draw had done the U.S. a favor once again, delivering them a February home fixture against Mexico. After two wins in Columbus, and a frigid Crew Stadium sure to await them yet again, there was no question where the Americans would host the match.
Rain, hail, ferocious winds and lightning not long before kickoff set the stage for the first match of the Hex, which was just fine for the U.S. It was cold, as promised, and La Guerra Fria 2.0 suited them for Dos a Cero 3.0.
The U.S. was under siege early on, with Tim Howard saving them on multiple occasions. But then, just before halftime, the Americans broke through. A floated corner kick across to the back post was nodded back into the middle by Donovan and Onyewu headed it on frame. Oswaldo Sanchez was there to make the save, but just like Onyewu's header left Ralston with a tap-in four years earlier, Michael Bradley was waiting to tap the ball in -- this time for a U.S. lead.
Marquez, already painted as the devil in the States, added to his reputation with an awful studs-up kick to Howard in the 65th minute that earned him a deserved red. Mexico was all but done at that point, but the U.S. had a tradition to uphold and they did in stoppage time. Bradley hit a bullet from 25 yards that Sanchez should have stopped, but it scooted under him as chants of "Dos a Cero" rang loud and clear through Crew Stadium, eight years and four 2-0 wins after they first did at the very same place.