July 26, 2009
By Michael Lewis
THE DREAM FINAL
Even without full National Teams, U.S.-Mexico Cup final should stir passions
East Rutherford, N.J. -- Losing to the U.S. has become almost an annual national embarrassment for Mexico, while the American soccer fans are basking in this new-found dominance after decades of international futility against their neighbors to the south.
The rivalry comes to Giants Stadium in the form of the CONCACAF Gold Cup final Sunday at 3 p.m. ET (Fox Soccer Channel)
For organizers. it is a dream final. The game was declared a sellout Saturday afternoon with at least two-thirds near-80,000 crowd expected to be rooting for the Tricolores.
Forward Brian Ching, the only U.S. player remaining from the U.S. team that beat Mexico for the 2007 Gold Cup crown, called the confrontation "fun, intense. exciting. Along with it a lot of times comes a little circus. That's week in and week out for the NFL, right?"
Even though this is far from a World Cup qualifier -- the teams will battle in Mexico City Aug. 12 -- it certainly will stir passion.
"It will always bring out emotion," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "It will be hard game. Both teams will go after each other in a way to try to put pressure and put the game in their terms."
"A game against Mexico is a game against Mexico, all right?" Ching said. "No real friendlies against these guys. Both teams are going to be out to win this game. We'll approach this game the same way we'll approach that one."
The U.S. brings in a relatively inexperienced international team that many observers say is really its C team without the likes of Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and company who propelled the Americans to a second-place finish to Brazil in the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa last month.
In their place are a number of up-and-coming players such as midfielders Stuart Holden and Kyle Beckerman.
"We need to start with a good amount of energy," Bradley said. "That's been important for us. We need to make sure that as the game goes on, we're good with the ball that we have the ability to put pressure on Mexico in key parts of the field."
Grass was placed over the artificial carpet at the stadium. Ching said the field went "from bouncy bouncy to no bounce. . . . A game of this magnitude should be played on grass."
To overcome the U.S., Mexico coach Javier Aguirre felt his side needs to play an immaculate match.
The Americans own Mexico on U.S. soil, sporting a 9-0-2 mark since a 2-1 loss in San Diego in March, 1999. Adding to the dominance is the fact the U.S. has prevailed in the last three WCQs in this country by 2-0 scores, plus a World Cup confrontation in Korea at the 2002 WC by the same result.
"We're going to try not to fall into same areas as in the past," Aguirre said. "We can't make mistakes going offensively. We can't make mistakes on stopped plays. That's how they beat the Honduras team. It is very clear on how they play and how they have beaten us in the past. We have to play a perfect game."
Aguirre knows the recent history between the two teams, and he isn't going to belabor the point with his players.
"I'm not going to do your job and look at statistics and then give it to the players," he told reporters. "The more information that they have about the U.S. -- and how important it is for Mexican fans, no I don't tell that to my players. All we see the final. We have to win the final.
"I'm not going to throw more ideas to them about the U.S., about the history," Aguirre said. "It is a very dangerous cocktail of information. At this point, it's 90 minutes of soccer and nothing else."