By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
USA Captures 4th Gold Cup After Pulsating 2-1 Win Over Mexico
MIAMI – Let’s be serious. This is what we wanted. Another Superclassico Norteamericano.
Yes, we applauded Guadeloupe’s run to the semifinals. Yes, we were impressed by the Canadian squad and felt for them as they lost out in controversial fashion. Yes, we discovered Honduras and Costa Rica are still factors in CONCACAF.
But a U.S.-Mexico showdown to decide the CONCACAF championship? That’s what was expected by most and the two teams did not disappoint when they got there, staging an abosrbing, highly intesne and competitive match that was decided on a world class goal.
The result? A 2-1 come from behind win for the United States at Solider Field on Sunday that gave them back to back Gold Cup championships and their fourth overall, joint leaders with Mexico.
While this was by far the most anticipated match up, neither side came in playing their best, consistent soccer. The U.S. was playing slightly better having won all of their matches but getting very little production from their forwards.
Eddie Johnson, Taylor Twellman and Brian Ching all had their moments but none shown bright enough to provide the finishing touches around the goal. As a result, the U.S. struggled to put lesser teams away.
Their inablity to finish off Canada in the semifinals led to a nervous final 20 minutes and culminated with an incorrectly disallowed goal denying the Canadians a shot at overtime.
The Mexicans were even more puzzling. Having brought their A team to the tournament, it was expected that they would just stroll past the competition on their way to Sunday’s final. However, they were beaten by Honduras in the group stage and were made to labor against teams like Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica and even Guadeloupe in the semifinal.
When you consider that Guadeloupe isn’t technically its own country but an oversees department of France (the equivalent would be if the state of Rhode Island fielded its own team) one can see how a 1-0 win in the semifinals would not please its head coach, Hugo Sanchez.
So it was against this backdrop that the giants of CONCACAF met to decide the championship and a spot in the 2009 Confederations Cup. The Mexicans began the match quite aggressively, closing down space early and presssing forward through mazy dribbling runs by players like Nery Castillo and the extremely impressive Andres Guardado. Just three mintues in, it was Guardado who lifted a cross just over the head of Jared Borgetti.
Unlike their previous matches, the U.S. had very little flow in the early going and it took them awhile to settle into the match. The weren’t able to string many passes together and were forced to play very quickly due to the Mexican pressure in the midfield.
It was not until the 16th minute that they had their first real opportunity. Landon Donovan received the ball on the right touch line and shook off Mexican captain Rafael Marquez with relative ease. As he approaced the area he crossed for DaMarcus Beasley. Beasley touched the ball in the area with his left foot but saw his right footed shot saved point-blank by Oswaldo Sanchez.
Both Beasley and Guardado attacked their respective left flanks, drawing bumps and fouls and the referee was content to let the players get after it. He allowed some physical play and apparent fouls go unpunished which made for an intense match you could feel even through your TV set.
U.S. left back Jonathan Bornstein almost put the US ahead in the 25 minute. After escaping a couple of defenders he coasted into the Mexican end and after not being closed down, unleased a shot from about 25 yeards out that struck the side netting.
Mexico continued to have the better of the play, however, primariliy through Guardado and Castillo who put on a dribbling exhibition to draw a free kick in the 30th minute, eluding 5 defenders in the process.
The only drawback in the first half for Mexico seemed to be the injury to Jared Borgetti who apparently pulled a muscle trying to play defense against Carlos Bocanegra. Mexico’s all time leading goal scorer had to be replaced in the 39th minute by Omar Bravo.
The U.S. should have gone ahead in the 40th mintue when after a turnover, Donovan hit Benny Feilhaber about 24 yards from goal. He fed Clint Dempsey who flicked a back pass to Donovan who shot from the edge of the area.
The ensuing clearance bounced off the back of a defender into Dempsey’s path but his shot was briliantly saved by Sanchez once again. Three minutes later Castillo took a beautiful touch pass from Guardado and streaked in on goal from the left. However, Tim Howard came and cut enough just enough of the angle to force Castillo to shoot wide right.
The let off was only temporary. Alberto (funky cold) Medina fed Castillo down the right sideline. Castillo sized up Oguchi Onyewu and then shook him, getting to the end line.
His cross rolled right to left past the mouth of the goal where an unmarked Guardado slid in to finish. 1-0 Mexico. A deserved lead that stood up for the remainder of the half, given their aggressiveness and the attacking of two protagonists on the goal.
It was the first time the U.S. had trailed in the tournament and the first time they’d given up a goal to Mexico let alone trailed them in a match on U.S. soil in over 800 minutes of play.
If the U.S. was to defend the Cup, they would have to do it the hard way. Ricardo Clark replaced Pablo Mastroeni at half time to help shore up the midfield and the U.S. went to work as in the 49th minute Donovan lifted a cross into the area.
It was punched out by Sanchez by Feilhaber drilled a shot back in. Sanchez saved that as well as a point blank effort by Dempsey before it was cleared. Howard matched Sanchez with a nice save in the 51st minute, pushing a Bravo shot wide after he was played into the area by Medina.
Castillo nearly doubled the lead from the ensuing corner collecting a weak clearance by Beasley and drillling it just over the bar.
The U.S.’s frustrations in front of goal continued. After a turnover, Donovan led a 4 on 2 counterattack and fed Dempsey on the left only to see the Fulham FC man drag a weak shot into Sanchez arms.
Two minutes later, Feilhaber played a brilliant pass from the left side into the box with the outside of his cleat only to see Ching unable to get foot on it.
In fact Ching had offered very little in front of goal for the U.S., but fortune smiled on him in th 60th minute when Jonathan Spector launched a pass toward Ching in the area. Ching first shielded then turned on his defender Jose Magallon, who kneed him in the thigh.
Ching felt the contact and went down. Penalty. Not the most vicious of tackles considering some of the other would-be fouls that were let go but a penalty nonetheless.
Donovan stepped up to take the penalty and as he went through his pk routine, Sanchez, Guardado and Pavel Pardo started whispering in his ear to distract him (Donovan is fluent in Spanish) but to no avail. Donovan sent Sanchez the wrong way with the goal that not only tied the match 1-1 but also tied him with Eric Wynalda as joint all-time leading scorer for the U.S.
Both teams continued to press and the intensity certainly had not died down in the Chicago summertime heat. In the 69th minute Spector and Guardado both flung themselves in the air to head a ball and instead headed each other.
It was a momentus collision that left both players dazed. Spector would be unable to continue and Guardado, though he played the remainder of the match, was never quite the same and had to be stretchered off the field before the medal ceremony.
There are those in Europe and South American that say games in CONCACAF mean nothing. There are those in this country who hear soccer and only see people kicking a beach ball and wondery why anyone cares.
But the sight of those two players, both young rising stars on their respective national teams, contesting a ball about 50 yards from goal, on a hot summer day in Chicago, fueled by pride and determination, showed just how much this match, the trophy and this rivalry and yes, this sport has come to mean.
It seems that everyone was still catching their breath 3 minutes later when Donovan lifted in a corner kick from the right side. The ball was cleared out to Feilhaber who let loose an absolute cannon of a volley from 20 yards out on the right side that only slowed down after it hit the back of the net in the upper left hand corner.
***image7*** This was a shot of the highest quality, a go grab your wife, wake up the napping kids, call your boy on the phone and say “Did you just see that??!?” kind of blast. Feilhaber etched his name in U.S. soccer lore with the kind of shot you can only dream of making in a superclassico. The U.S. now had the lead 2-1.
Ching should have put the U.S. up two in the 76th after receiving a fanstatic ball from Beasley, avoiding Magallon and eluding Sanchez only to hit the right post with the net wide open.
Mexico tried to bring on Cuahtemoc Blanco to help turn the tide but the U.S. began counter attacking and maintaining enough credible possession to bleed the clock effectively. The Mexicans began to press the attack sending waves of people forward.
Though they were able to draw the occaional free kick, the Mexican side could not muster any real serious scoring threat until the 89th mintue. Castillo made his way into the box from the right side. The ball was touched away but rebounded right into the path ofsecond half substitute Adolfo Bautista.
His shot from six yards was brilliant turned over the cross bar by Tim Howard perserving the lead. After Osvaldo Sanchez turned in a big time performance in the first half, it was Howard’s turn to come through with a momentus save and he was up to the task.
***image8*** After the ensuing corner, Donovan raced up the right side of the field and fed Beasley on the left for what should have been an easy tap-in. But just as Donovan missed in a similar position against Canada, Beasley returned the favor by inexplicably serving the ball over the cross bar.
It was the miss of the tournament but luckily it did not come back to hanut the U.S. After an offside call and a penalty appeal correctly waved away during injury time the US celebrated jubilantly after capturing the title with a heart-stopping win.
There are those who complained that tournament organizers did what they could to ensure the U.S. and Mexico made the final. Costa Rica had some bitter complaints and the Canadians were justified in their protests over the disallowed goal. But this was a final for the ages. An absolute intense affair between two strong rivals that was decided by a wonder of a goal.
The U.S. and Mexico put on a show at Soldier Field on Sunday, demonstrating how pulsating this sport really is. For American fans, the only thing sweeter then a well played match was snatching another title, this time against Mexico.