So far in this 2011 Gold Cup, the United States national team has given us a mixed message about what we should exactly expect out of them.
After an unconvincing group stage that included a 2-1 loss to Panama (the first ever loss for the Americans in the group stage of the Gold Cup), the United States retaliated with a convincing 2-0 win over a strong Jamaican side in the quarterfinal.
In the semifinal, the Americans again looked unconvincing against Panama but were able to advance after a successful counterattack led to Clint Dempsey's third goal of the tournament.
Now, for the third time in five years, the US will face arch rival Mexico in the Gold Cup final.
Throughout this Gold Cup, Mexico have been without question the best side in the tournament despite being down to 18 men for most of it.
Mexico have been powered through the tiny frame of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and have only conceded two goals in this entire tournament.
Going into this final, Mexico are the favorites to win the 2011 Gold Cup and represent CONCACAF in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Despite being underdogs, the US still has hopes to win this match. Here is what the Americans have to do to win their first Gold Cup since 2007.
Throughout this Gold Cup, the United States have been questionable at the beginning of each match. Despite having game-winning goals scored early on in their two group stage victories, the US has been outplayed at the beginning of these matches.
However, not one of the four opponents that the Americans faced is as strong as this Mexican side that they are about to face.
Now, if the United States can get off to a strong start where they make an attempt to calm down the crowd and slow down the game, they will not only get a better opportunity to control the match, but they also will be able to prevent themselves from starting off the match digging themselves out of a hole.
So far in this Gold Cup, Chicharito has shown that he is the best player in CONCACAF by scoring seven goals.
To put this into perspective, that is as many goals as the United States has scored in this ENTIRE TOURNAMENT!
A huge reason why Chicharito is able to score is due to his ability to be in the right place at the right time to score these goals.
The United States should make it a primary focus that one defender (probably Carlos Bocanegra) will cover Chicharito.
A failure to contain Chicharito will severely harm the United States in this final.
This is something that the United States has done well in this Gold Cup, but it is extremely important for the US to defend well against set pieces against Mexico.
The Mexican squad they are facing is extremely talented offensively and were able to score twice off of set pieces in extra time.
The US does have a strong record when it comes from defending against set pieces, but it is still extremely important to defend well against set pieces in a match of this importance.
The best goalkeeper in CONCACAF, Tim Howard has once again showed that he is one of the top goalkeepers in the world in this Gold Cup.
Howard will once again star for the United States in this Gold Cup final, and he can easily be the biggest difference maker for the Americans in this match.
The biggest key for Howard will be to put together a man of the match performance, something that he does in nearly every match that he plays in for the United States.
Whenever the United States and Mexico play each other, the side that is able to exert themselves more physically gets a major leg up on the opposition.
For the United States it is extremely important that they are the side that is more physical. Physicality is such an important part of this match that even a red card can't be out of the equation in an important match such as this one.
Also, starting off the match in a physical way will prove to be even more important in the long run because it allows for the United States to slow down the Mexican attack from taking hold in the American half of the pitch.
A scene like this picture from the last time that these two sides played each other is bound to show up sometime during this match.
As part of being one of the best rivalries in world football, the United States and Mexico have moments such as these that turn into a defining part of the match.
In the last two World Cup qualifiers that this took place in (back in 2009), we saw Rafa Marquez get red carded and Mexico were on the defensive for the remainder of the match in Columbus, and we saw the US get intimidated after a harsh tackle on Charlie Davies.
Now, in this Gold Cup final, there will certainly be another incident between these two sides that will play out like this. It is important for the United States that they do not allow Mexico to take initiative during this situation, and they will need to stand up for themselves.
The most important outfield player for the United States, Landon Donovan has found himself on the bench to start the last two matches.
However, Bob Bradley will probably not bench Donovan again to start this match. Even though Donovan has been very effective once he gets into the game, it makes no sense to bench your best player to start the game in a huge match against your biggest rival.
Now Donovan must perform up to the ability that he showed us in last year's World Cup and use his talents.
Even if Donovan starts the match on the bench, he must continue to star for the Americans and needs to be sharp.
Throughout this entire Gold Cup, the United States have continued to miss golden opportunities to score.
For whatever reason, the Americans are just trying to score the most beautiful goals that they can. This strategy is only going to hurt the United States in the longrun, and they need to just score.
If the United States does not change their approach to do this, they will find themselves staring at defeat.
The biggest star from the win against Panama came in the form of a forgotten face on the national team in Freddy Adu.
Now Adu did look great off the bench, but it must be expected that all Americans who come in off the bench will put together performances just like this.
Whoever the subs are for this match are, they all must perform their best match of this Gold Cup and have to fulfill their duties.
One of the lasting impressions of Bob Bradley's regime has been the ability for the United States to close out matches strong.
This final is no exception for this premise, and considering that Mexico played 30 extra minutes against Honduras, it gives the Americans a slight edge when it comes down to the ending of the match.
If we can see the United States finish this match strong (like we know that they are capable of doing), they should be able to score a late goal here in this final.
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