2011 Gold Cup: USA vs. Mexico Final Preview
Oh how I wish I could have been in a room with the CONCACAF executives last night. It would have been fun to watch the roller coaster of emotion that would have taken place.
I'm sure the night would have started on a high note, with Mexico running on all cylinders and the US finally figuring out their game. Many of the men would have not watched the matches instead opting to work on their books to figure out how to account for the bribes they received from Qatar.
But then someone would have decided to turn on the TV just to catch a repeat of Modern Family and accidentally flip past the game, only then to realize that in the 70th minute of the first game the US isn't winning.
They put down their pens and watch nervously until Landon Donovan feeds a perfect ball to Clint Dempsey for the easy put in. The US wins 1-0, and the men are relieved.
After that close call, they decide to watch the Mexico game (you know, just in case they need to phone a call into the referee). For 90 minutes they sweat, gulp and bite their nails as Honduras just won't seem to go away.
Finally in extra time Mexico scores. A few minutes later they add a second and seal the game and a US-Mexico final.
That theoretical room breathes a huge sigh of relief.
Who will win?
Do you know how many Panamanians and Hondurans live in Southern California? Neither do I and thankfully CONCACAF won't find out the hard way on June 25th at the Rose Bowl.
Mexico vs. US is what everyone wanted, and the game will hopefully live up to its billing.
Mexico has been the most impressive team of the tournament. They are absolutely loaded with talent all over the field and have shown the ability to overwhelm as well as persevere.
The game against Honduras was their most difficult thus far. Though they would eventually win in convincing fashion, they struggled to get going offensively and were fortunate a few times as Honduras squandered chances.
The Mexican stars Giovani dos Santos and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez were sensational again. Both were a constant threat and stretched the field to give the mids comfortable possession. Goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera played well too.
Looking forward to the game ahead we can expect both the outfield players above to be at their best. Chicharito will get his chances, and dos Santos will own the midfield. But if Mexico wants to win, they are going to need Aldo de Nigris to show up like he has been all tournament.
The threat that this team can show to the back four of the US goes without saying. Shaky displays in the first few games will have the Mexican attackers salivating to get their chance.
The defense has been strong for Mexico thus far, only allowing three goals. However, they have looked vulnerable to the counter attack. This is mostly because they posses the ball so much the defenders tend to creep forward.
It has not hurt them so far, but with the US displaying more and more ability to counter, Mexico will have to be on their guard.
The good thing about when you get to the knockout rounds of any tournament is that nothing matters except the next games. The poor performances that they US has had throughout the tournament has ultimately meant nothing as they are now one step away from reaching their goal.
The 1-0 win over Panama in the semis was one of their best of the tournament. They controlled the ball, defended well and showed poise as they clock ticked away and they still were not winning.
Soccer is not like football where each play is the coaches design. It is an open game where the coaches influence once the game starts is as much dependent on his ability to yell as it is his tactics. But if there ever were a coaches goal this would be it.
Every US fan (myself included) had the same reaction when they saw Adu was coming in the game or the fact that Donovan wasn't starting: "What the (insert expletive) is Bradley doing?" And we all simultaneously bit our tongues as Dempsey touched the ball into the net.
The US is going to need Bradley to be spot on (or at least lucky) in his decision making again. I think the gamble of leaving Donovan on the bench again is just too great with the stakes at hand. Even though the game is in the US, this is Mexico's home away from home.
There will be more green in the Rose Bowl than red, white and blue. Youngsters like Bedoya and Adu have never played in such a hostile atmosphere and it would be risky to throw them out there at the start.
The stars of the US (Howard, Dempsey, Donovan) will have to be at their best, that is a given, but others will need to step up their game as well.*
But the four-goal drubbing by Spain was more about lack of effort than actual inability to defend. The Americans are going to have to be ready to move and leave everything the have out on that field when the final whistle is blown.
Though it would appear that this game is going to be about how many goals can Mexico score and will the US be able to answer, it is really about defense for that same reason.
Can the US stop this high powered attack and will Mexico's back four show a weakness the US can exploit?
It is always difficult to predict a game where you are a fan and the teams are relatively even. You're prediction will usually follow suit with your loyalties.
In this case, Mexico just seems to have too much going for it to deny them the odds. They have been playing great and at no point have not seemed like the favorites to win it all. Even in games where they didn't crush their opponent, no one could argue that they did not deserve the win.
Add in the fact that this is essentially a home game and you have all the components that give Mexico the advantage.
This will mark the 48th time that these two teams have met. It may not be the greatest rivalry in the international game, but it sure feels like it when you're at the stadium or seeing the crowd on TV. That alone will make it enjoyable to watch, no matter what the outcome.
* For a list of players who I see as integral to a US win check out my slideshow:
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