What a game. When you get to the finals or even semifinals of a lot of major tournaments, often teams will play cynically. Players and coaches seem more intent on not making mistakes. The suspense is there but the enjoyment is missing. In yesterday’s Gold Cup final, none of this was the case. Both teams honored the beautiful game by coming out and playing positively and, for the most part, cleanly. Mexico took it to the US for the majority of the first half and deservedly led 1-0 at the break. That’s not to say that the US did not create good chances. Johnny Chivas (Bornstein) made an enterprising run from his left back position into the middle and unleashed a bullet that bulged the net, but on the wrong side of the post. The best player of the half was Nery Castillo. He figured out early that he could beat Jonathan Spector for pace and he took full advantage. Castillo swapped sides and opportunistically took advantage of a mis-shaped US side to create a tap-in for Guardado. Bornstein and Spector were caught forward and so Onyewu was drawn out wide to man-up on Castillo. Perhaps a Frankie Hedjuk or Michael Bradley would have provided better cover for Bornstein and the backline. Regardless. credit Mexico and Castillo; it was a quality goal.
Before the break, Bradley wisely switched Donovan and Dempsey because neither were having an impact. Donovan quickly got involved more from his deeper position and created good opportunities for Ching and Dempsey that both went wanting. To start the second half, Bradley injected energy into the game in the form of Ricardo Clark. Mastroeni seemed a step slow and was not providing the cover necessary for the US back line.
The changes paid off when Ching expertly turned his defender in the box and was clearly tripped. Donovan buried the ensuing PK and the game was tied. Not 10 minutes later, the US was still pressuring and on a poorly cleared corner kick Feilhaber hit a dream volley into the upper far post corner. What a moment for the emerging midfielder. The rest of the game had everyone on the edge of their seats. Ching and Beasley both missed empty nets, truly empty nets. Unbelievable. Timmy Howard stood on his head to save a point-blankshot from the man with the world’s smallest pony tail: Adolfo Bautista.
After four minutes of stoppage, the celebrations began at Soldier Field and at my house. We still own Mexico. In a rare show of good sportsmanship, two Mexican players exchanged jerseys with US players. Ever since the US beat Mexico in Columbus in 2001 in La Guerra Fria, a match I attended, the Mexicans have refused to shake hands and/or exchange jerseys as is customary in the beautiful game. Hugo Sanchez also shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Bob Bradley, another sign of new respect from our CONCACAF rivals.
The final was everything we waited for, a great day for US soccer.