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 former San Jose Earthquake 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 into 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.
"Obviously this is a huge, huge evening for all of us," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "It's a huge milestone whenever you make it to a World Cup."
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.
"We're continuing the growth of the game here in the sport, we're improving, getting better and we've got to make sure we do well in Brazil to keep it going," Dempsey said.
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.
Robin Van Persie's goals in the 49th and 53rd minutes lifted the Netherlands to a 2-0 win at Andorra.