Yesterday I devoted my writing time on this site entirely to the Portland Timbers. My daily traffic noticeably suffered for it, but I stand by that this is, above all else,a blog for and about the Timbers, questionable performances and all. Today, however, there doesn't seem to be any Portland Timbers news to write about, hence, a Gold Cup review. Also, forgive me if I'm a little bitter. It was tough weathering a 4 nil loss to FC Dallas only to suffer a 4 - 2 defeat about a half hour later at the hands of Mexico.
As we all know, yesterday was the CONCACAF Gold Cup final held in Pasadena, CA at the Rose Bowl. It was quite an impressive sight to see 93,000 fans pack into the stadium to see the two best regional soccer teams play each other, even if it was mostly Mexican fans (more on that later). Certainly the level of play was worthy of such a crowd, at least for the Mexican fans.
First Half Successes
The game started out well for the Americans. They played with energy, coordination and were generally better at every end of the field than their Mexican counter parts. Even Freddy Adu, a player many were surprised to see get into the starting 11, played with a level of skill and energy that we witnessed a few days prior against Panama.
So it didn't come as too much of a surprise when the Nats scored first off a Michael Bradley header in the 8th minute. The Americans were constantly battling for that first goal against what is a much more technically gifted team. It was also enough of a shock to the Mexican players that they were fairly inept for the next 15 or so minutes even allowing in another goal off a goalkeeping gf in the 23rd minute by Landon Donovan.
Unfortunately, shortly after marked a turning point for the American side when Steve Cherundolo was forced to be subbed off due to an injury. Jonathan Bornstein, of the Mexican league side Tigres, was subbed on in his place.
I believe this was the instant that the game turned around and the dominant side got their heads back into the game with two goals coming at the 29th minute off a break by Pablo Barrera and a terrible defensive gaf that lead to a 36th minute squeaker in the 36th minute. Both goals could easily have bee chalked up to a terrible defensive backline, but Tim Howard was not entirely blameless either.
The first half would end with a 2 - 2 draw and a resurging Mexican side that had no intent of letting things stay where they were.
Second Half Woes
The second half of the game was very entertaining if you were a Mexican fan, or just a casual observer watching for the love of the game. The Mexicans, still on their resurgent path almost completely dominated the game. Very rarely were the Americans looking overly offensive. The lone exception when Clint Dempsey made an impressive strike that hit the crossbar and was knocked back out in the field.
Without a strong backline and and increasingly aggressive Mexican team, it would only take until the 50th minute for Mexico to score their third of the night. A goal that I consider to largely be the fault of Tim Howard when Pablo Barrera, once again, got his name on the scoreboard with a low sliding shot almost directly at Tim Howard who flopped right over the top of it.
And then it happened. In what was arguably the most impressive goal of the night and tournament, Giovani dos Santos corralled the ball into the box and was able to juke not only Tim Howard, but three defenders to place an outside shot that sailed right into the top left corner of the goal. It was beautiful, it was extremely well placed and yes it was a little lucky.
Once that forth and final goal sailed in the game was pretty much over. The Americans were spent and really never put much effort toward winning back the game as the Mexicans had in the first half.
Mexico would win 4 - 2 in what was, if nothing else, at least an entertaining display of soccer.
A Choice of Setting
Finally, I just want to voice my opinion on the setting of the final. I understand that the Los Angeles area has a majority population of Mexicans and that it makes financial sense for CONCACAF to place the final in the Rose Bowl as it maximizes revenue. That said, I can't help but feel that paying the game there placed the USMNT at a disadvantage.
Let's be honest here, CONCACAF could have placed the final in almost ANY major US city and the Mexican population would have been impressive. Hell, they would still probably be the majority. Had they played in the New England or the PNW (Qwest) it would still have been an impressive Mexican culture as there are plenty of Mexican supporters throughout the United States.
Puttng the final in the Los Angeles area was, in my opinion, overkill. Everybody knew that the USMNT were going to be playing in hostile territory, despite the US actually hosting the tournament. And it showed. Whenever Tim Howard kicked the ball out he recieved a swath of boos and when the USMNT scored both times they were not greeted by cheers, they were greeted with the kind of hatred that opposing fans lavish on them.
I won't go so far as to say that had the final been elsewhere in the US the Nats would have won the game, but there is an air of energy that was largely missing in the stadium for what is supposed to be a "home" game. An advantage most certainly given to the Mexican national team.
I just hope for the next Gold Cup, the US team is given more of a chance to actually be in front of a home crowd.