Did Dempsey Miss on Purpose?

It's more than just ridiculous. It borders on surreal. Four soccer games between the same two teams in the same city over 12 years all end 2-0.

It's not that the odds are long, or even that the odds are astronomically, absurdly, insanely long. It's that the whole proposition is so patently absurd that no one would bother considering it.

The names and faces and styles of play keep changing. Only the result remains the same.

I confess that when, not long after the first goal, the entire stadium started chanting "Dos a Cero" it made me a little uneasy. I'm not a superstitious man but you just don't tempt fate like that.

But that phrase, those three little words, have so much power as a mantra that it seemed to me that after the first goal you could almost see the panic begin to set in as the Mexicans - players and fans alike - began thinking "Dear God, not again. Please, not again"

So when Landon Donovan hit the second goal - and if you think someone else was even in the running for man of the match you were watching a different game - and the building exploded in a cacophony of noise, and that chant began again loud enough that they probably could hear it in Cleveland, all the Mexicans could do was stare at the ground in disbelief.

Go ahead, admit it: when the referee pointed to the spot, and Dempsey stepped up to take the shot, you were torn. Of course you wanted him to make it, run up the score, beat El Tri like a rented mule, that's what we're here for.

Still, if he made it, Dos a Cero would be a thing of the past. Deep down, I'll wager that a goodly number of Mexico fans actually wanted him to make that shot, wanted it three to nothing, wanted something, anything, besides that ridiculous, insane, illogical same old score.

And it says here that Clint felt the same way. He's a professional, he doesn't tank PK's. Ever. His every instinct drives him to bury it in the net regardless of the situation. You don't survive long at his level without a killer instinct that never entertains the notion of not scoring when you have the chance.

But after the game, in the delirium of the parking lots and the hugging and dancing and high-fiving of perfect strangers suddenly become the best of friends, you heard the question over and over, often beginning with an almost-embarrassed "you don't suppose that Dempsey..." and no one really needed to finish the sentence.

I didn't have an answer then, I don't have one now and, absent a response that Deuce will most likely never offer up, none of us will ever really know.

Personally, I don't believe it. Not for a minute. I just don't think it's possible.

What I do believe is that when Dempsey stepped to the spot he knew just as well or better than anyone in the place that a third goal would forever expunge the dos a cero nightmare that has haunted El Tri through the last four qualifying cycles.

It wasn't just in the back of his mind. He'd been hearing - indeed being deafened by - the chanting from the crowd whch only grew, incredibly, even louder as the clock ran down.

Was he ambivalent? Was he less than committed? No, he'd never tank the shot, but was he less than totally convinced that he really wanted to make it?

We'll surely never know. It may be that Dempsey himself may never really know.

The only thing we can pretty safely say is that when he woke up this morning alone in a hotel room in downtown Columbus, he doesn't much mind.