The goal of the year. If there was one reason, just one reason to watch the Gold Cup final between Mexico vs USA, it would have to be Giovani Dos Santos’s other world goal. Unbelievable skill from the Racing Santander midfielder who kept the ball on a rope drawing out half the US defense and Tim Howard off his line and then in an exhibition of delectable control chips the ball perfectly towards the far post and over a leaping Eric Lichaj. A Play Station goal.
He was brilliant throughout the match. With his jinking runs and tight ball control he reminds one of the earlier Ronaldinho.
El Tri were spades more creative than the USA and with the dangerous Andres Guardado, a flyer down the left and Pablo Barrera churning down the right the rejiggered US defense was torn apart. Bob Bradley was forced into making an early substitution bringing Jonathan Bornstein for the injured Steve Cherundolo while the match was barely 10 minutes old. Bornstein returned to his familiar left back spot while Bradley shunted Lichaj into an unfamiliar right back role. After this match can one safely conclude Bornstein’s national career is over.
It was the USA however storming into a early 2-0 lead with Freddy Adu having a hand in both scores. Bradley repaid Adu’s scintillating Panama form by giving him a start and rotated Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey up top. Adu’s effort earned the USA a corner which he whipped into the near post. Michael Bradley positioned in front managed the perfect deflection. Adu then initiated the move which led to Dempsey finding Donovan cutting in and driving the ball with a left footed finish past Alfredo Talavera. The Mexicans were just about picking themselves up after that early goal.
Surely they were done for. But El Tri, are a team that have shown they play their best football in such adversity. Adding to the early setbacks, Mexico lost Carlos Salcido and Rafa Marquez their two defensive stalwarts to injury. José Manuel de la Torre brought in the less experienced Jorge Torres Nilo and the 30 year old uncapped Hector Reynoso. Both stepped up with Reynoso proving to be a tough customer in the middle and Torres teaming up with Guardado to give even more zip down the left channel.
The Mexicans cranked it up in the last 20 minutes of the first half as they patrolled the US perimeter looking for a way in and coming close a number of times. It was Pablo Barrera providing the breakthrough as Chicharito found him from midfield and the West Ham midfielder sliced past Bornstein to rifle a shot between Howard and the near post. The equalizer came when Dos Santos bursting through the right sent in a splitting cross which found an out of position Lichaj struggling to clear the ball. An onrushing Guardado smashed a shot which a prostrate Howard partially blocked but the ball trickled into goal.
The second half saw Mexico taking an early lead with Barrera scoring his second goal with a magnificent curling effort with the outside of his right foot. Mexico sealed the win with Dos Santos providing that exclamation point. The USA did have a few good chances with Dempsey’s first time shot hitting the crossbar, Bradley’s volley just curling away, and Carlos Bocanegra’s header flashing wide to keep the match interesting.
The match turned all the FSC pundits prediction of a low scoring match on its head. Why would that be? Two teams that like to attack, have a host of attacking talent, and in a battle for regional supremacy. Except for the 1998 Gold Cup final which ended in a 1-0 win for the USA, the rest featuring these two countries have been relatively high scoring affairs.
Kyle Martino interestingly kept talking of ‘posture’, referring to the constant switching between Dempsey and Donovan in the striker role. Has he perhaps not heard of ‘formation’? He was also premature in predicting no more ‘ole’s’ after the USA took that two goal lead. El Tri fans who vastly outnumbered the US support rubbed that bit of hubris with redoubled vocal fervour. JP Dellacamera in a show of irritating atavism lapsed into baseball parlance to describe equalizers as ‘game tying goals’. Stuart Holden was short and concise in his summation but one can take quick power naps when Chris Sullivan goes into drone mode. Then there was the distractingly large caption on the TV screen obscuring most of the action on the wings. The Univision coverage provided better clarity with one far more understated.
Peel away the fog of jingoism and beyond this result lies the inevitable conclusion of a Mexican team superior to their US counterparts. That of course does not mean the US is doomed because Martino rightly points out grit and determination can make a difference. But clearly a talent gap that large will prove difficult to overcome. Chicharito Hernandez had a quiet evening but his team proved they did not really need him to score.