US Soccer Fails To Hold Lead, Lose 4-2 To Mexico In Gold Cup Final
The Americans were up 2-0 on arch-rivals Mexico just 23 minutes into Saturday night's Gold Cup final, a dream start for coach Bob Bradley's team. The overwhelmingly pro-Mexico crowd of 93,420 at the Rose Bowl had been silenced by goals from Michael Bradley, the coach's son, and Landon Donovan. Surprise starter Freddy Adu finally looked to be living up to his massive potential.
But then, suddenly, it all fell apart. Mexico scored four straight goals and ran out of the Rose Bowl with the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup title, the regional championship for North and Central America and the Caribbean, and a berth in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
"We didn't do a good enough job," Donovan said. "At a minimum, you need to get into halftime [leading] 2-0. We just lost concentration on a couple plays and they made us pay."
The defeat was eerily similar to the United States' loss to Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup final, a game in which they also squandered a 2-0 lead first-half lead.
"It's a difficult way for us to end the tournament for sure," Bradley said. "In both cases, we're playing against good teams. These are learning experiences when you're playing against a good team."
The Mexicans had drawn the game even by halftime through goals from midfielders Pablo Barrera (29th minute) and Andres Guardado (36th). Barrera scored again in the 50th minute and midfielder Giovanni Dos Santos clinched it with a wonder goal in the 76th.
"The truth is that it was a complicated game," said Dos Santos, who was named the man of the match by the media.
Mexico started to attack the United States' goal from the opening whistle. Striker Javier Hernandez was open all alone in the box in the 2nd minute but couldn't control the entry pass. Midfielder Gerardo Torrado stole the ball from Michael Bradley in the 6th minute and found Dos Santos open at the top of the box. Dos Santos put his shot just wide of the far post.
The Americans opened the scoring against the run of the play in the 8th minute, on their first shot of the evening. Adu put a left-footed corner kick into the center of the box, a pass that Bradley redirected past Mexican goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera with a flick of his head. Talavera got a hand on Bradley's shot but couldn't keep it out of the net.
American defender Steve Cherundolo, injured on a tackle from teammate Jermaine Jones, was substituted in the 11th minute for Jonathan Bornstein.
"It certainly affected us, not only from a soccer standpoint, but from a leadership and morale standpoint,” Donovan said about Cherundolo's injury.
The Mexicans continued to attack, determined to equalize. Hernandez wiggled open in the middle of the box but put his header over the bar in the 12th minute. Two minutes later, Hernandez received a pass from Pablo Barrera and chipped a shot over American goalkeeper Tim Howard, only to hit the outside of the near post.
The United States began to settle down in the next 10 minutes and grabbed a second goal in the 23rd minute. Midfielder Clint Dempsey received a pass from Adu 30 yards from goal and slotted a perfectly weighted through ball to Donovan, who was streaking from right to left across the Mexican goalmouth. Donovan rounded a charging Talavera and calmly slotted the ball into the net for the surprise 2-0 lead, silencing a pro-Mexico Rose Bowl crowd.
Adu could have made it 3-0 in the 28th minute, but he put his left-footed shot wide of the near post.
El Tri leveled the score in the 36th minute. Dos Santos powered down the right flank, cut inside and fired a low shot that was blocked by U.S. defender Eric Lichaj at the far post. Guardado beat Howard to the rebound and sent a sliding shot rolling toward the far post. Hernandez, who was in an offside position, successfully danced to avoid touching the ball and watched it roll over the line for the equalizer.
"That's a tough one," Bradley said. "That one really changed the momentum before half."
Jose Manuel De La Torre, the Mexican coach, did have to make two changes to his back line in the first half, substituting Carlos Salcido and captain Rafael Marquez in the 28th and 43rd minutes respectively.
Mexico came out of the locker room attacking again at the start of the second half and grabbed the lead in the 50th minute. Barrera hit a first time shot from the right side of the box that a diving Howard couldn't get down to in time, putting Mexico up 3-2.
"We fought. We started two-nil down and it was very difficult," Hernandez said. "It was a difficult tournament from the beginning."
The Americans rallied with three good chances in the next ten minutes. U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra headed a shot wide off of a corner kick in the 52nd, Talavera made a jumping save on Adu's free kick in the 59th and Dempsey hit the crossbar with his effort from the top of the box in the 60th.
While the Americans failed to capitalize on their chances, the Mexicans scored the clincher in the 76th minute. Dos Santos, who terrorized U.S. substitute Bornstein all match, received the ball in the box and began to dribble. Howard charged out, diving at the ball and taking several swipes at it while Dos Santos continued to dribble, playing a game of cat and mouse with the U.S. keeper. Dos Santos, still dribbling, cut to his left between two American defenders and hit a bending shot to the far post that U.S. defender Eric Lichaj couldn't get his head to, giving Mexico a 4-2 lead and sending the Rose Bowl crowd into a frenzy.
Bradley called Dos Santos' goal "a great piece of skill."
The United States could have climbed back into the match late, but Bradley’s 80th-minute volley from the top of the box was always bending wide of the open net.
"It was a tough night for us," Cherundolo said. "But this team is resilient. We've shown that in the past."
News and Notes
-- After the loss, rumors began to swirl about Bradley's job security. United States Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati was in attendance at Bradley's post-match press conference, but denied interview requests. Donovan declined to comment on his coach's job. Bradley has been in charge of the United States team for five years and led the team to a Round of 16 appearance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2007 Gold Cup title.
-- Hernandez was named the Most Valuable Player of the Gold Cup and won the Golden Boot Award for finishing as the tournament's high scorer with seven goals. Mexico also won the Fair Play Award and Noel Valladares of Honduras won the Best Goalkeeper honor.
-- Cherundolo was diagnosed with a left ankle injury. No timetable was given for his return.
-- About the overwhelmingly pro-Mexico crowd in Pasadena, Bob Bradley said: "The support that Mexico has on a night like tonight makes it a home game for them." [Editor's note: For the record, the decisions on all Gold Cup venue sites are made by CONCACAF, not the United States Soccer Federation.]
-- With the victory, Mexico clinched a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, which will feature the six regional champions plus hosts Brazil and World Cup holders Spain. Mexico becomes the fourth team qualified for the competition, joining Brazil, Spain and Japan.
-- The U.S. will now turn its focus to qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The Americans will likely enter the CONCACAF qualifying tournament next June.