June 25, 2011
By Michael Lewis
LEAVING NO DOUBT
Mexico wins a golden clasico over U.S., 4-2
PASADENA, Calif. -- For once and for all, Mexico put to rest any doubts as to which team is the best team in CONCACAF -- spectacularly.
|Michael Bradley got the USA off to a feel-good start against Mexico, but El Tri repeated as Gold Cup Champions with a 4-2 win.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Overcoming a two-goal deficit in the first half, El Tri struck for four unanswered goals -- two in each half -- to roll past the United States and capture the CONCACAF Gold Cup behind a rousing 4-2 triumph before a capacity crowd of 93,420 at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
Two years ago, the Mexicans rolled over the Americans, 5-0, to capture the Gold Cup crown, although many critics and observers dismissed that result and felt that the game was not a true indication of the strength of both teams since the U.S. used essentially a B team.
On Saturday, the Mexicans left no doubt before 93,420 fans, most of them rooting for El Tri, at the Rose Bowl.
Besides the Gold Cup trophy, El Tri actually earned another prize: A trip to Brazil in 2013 to represent the confederation at the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Midfielder Pablo Barrera struck for two goals, including the game-winner in the 50th minute, and Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos also scored for the winners, while Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan found the back of the net for the Americans.
The sixth goals set a record for a Gold Cup final, eclipsing the 2009 championship encounter.
The triumph capped one of the most memorable Gold Cup runs for any champion in the 11 editions of the tournament. The Mexicans outscored their opposition, 22-4. They began the competition with a pair of 5-0 routs of El Salvador and Cuba and continued it with a 4-1 romp over Costa Rica. Life became more difficult in the knockout round as they edged Guatemala in the quarterfinals, 2-1, and needed extratime to prevail over Honduras in the semifinals, 2-0.
On Saturday, the Mexicans were forced to overcome a two-goal deficit, although they made it look easy at times.
No one realized it at the time, but the game's turning point occurred in the 11th minute when U.S. right fullback Steve Cherundolo was forced to the sidelines with a sprained left ankle. Jonathan Bornstein was brought into the back at left back and Eric Lichaj switched to right fullback.
It did not take the Mexicans long to determine the Americans' weakest link and they attacked unmercifully down the right flank, as all of their goals originated from that side.
In a startling decision by U.S. coach Bob Bradley, midfielder Freddy Adu was named in the starting 11 as Juan Agudelo was dropped to the bench. Landon Donovan started as the lone striker.
Adu, he one-time teenage phenom who has struggled in recent years trying to catch on with a European team, only made his tournament debut in the 1-0 semifinal win over Panama.
Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre deployed a lineup that included three players who were considered questionable for the game -- defender Carlos Salcido and midfielders Gerardo Torrado and Guardado.
The Rose Bowl was a sea of green shirts with red speckled here and there.
When the U.S. took and left the field for pre-game practice, they were heartily booed. Not surprisingly, when the Mexicans hit the pitch they were cheered.
Torrado dispossessed Michael Bradley of the ball at midfield and found teammate Giovani dos Santos, who snapped a shot that sailed just wide right of the goal and the outstretched Tim Howard in the sixth minute
Bradley made up for his error and then some only two minutes later. After a Cherundolo cross was blocked and knocked over the goal line, Adu took a corner kick that Bradley managed to flick past goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera at the near post and into the left corner for a 1-0 lead.
Mexico striker Javier Hernandez came close to scoring in the 12th minute, but his point-blank header went over the crossbar. Two minutes later, a Chicharito shot hit the right post, but the play did not count because he was offside.
The Americans doubled their lead in the 23rd minute when Donovan latched onto a Clint Dempsey feed and broke into the penalty area and fired a low shot into the left corner for a 2-0 advantage. It was Donovan's 13th Gold Cup goal, which set a tournament record.
In the 28th minute, de la Torre replaced Salcido with Jorge Torres.
Only 20 seconds after the substitution, El Tri cut the lead in half as Pablo Barrera beat Bornstein on the right side and found plenty of room in the penalty area, beating Howard with a laser to the near post in the 29th minute.
The Mexicans equalized off a counterattack in the 36th minute. This time dos Santos beat Bornstein on the right flank and fired a shot that Howard knocked away. With Howard out of the net, Guardado had an easy tap-in for a 2-2 deadlock.
Only two minutes before halftime, de la Torre was forced to use the second of his three allotted subs when he replaced an injured Rafael Marquez, the team captain and New York Red Bulls central defender, with Hector Reynoso.
Dos Santos continued to dominate Bornstein on the right flank as he rushed down the side and sent a shot that just missed the lower left corner a minute into stoppage time.
As the second half began, the U.S. could not find a way to hide Bornstein as dos Santos almost scored but Howard tipped away in the 47th minute.
But only two minutes later, the Mexicans took the lead for the first time as they worked the right side. This time it was Pablo Barrera beating captain and central defender Carlos Bocanegra from six yards for a 3-2 advantage in the 50th minute.
After he was fouled some 25 yards out, Adu launched a free kick toward the upper right corner that Talavera caught in the 58th minute.
Clint Dempsey came even closer in the 60th minute, when he clanged a 17-yard shot off the bar.
Dos Santos gave Mexico some breathing room in the 76th minute as he forced Howard to come well out of the goalmouth in an attempt to deny him on the right side of the penalty area while the goalkeeper's teammates could not get the ball away from the forward. When he noticed he did not have much of an angle to shoot at the near post, dos Santos lofted the ball toward the far left open corner. Lichaj jumped in vain to head it out of harm's way, but could not get to the ball as he hit the goalpost and the ball the back of the net.