Giovani dos Santos has long been a nemesis for the U.S. national team. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
With the United States and Mexico preparing for their World Cup qualifying encounter in Mexico City June 11, FrontRowSoccer.com is looking back at some of the most memorable matches between these two archrivals. Today, we look a Mexican rout in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
By Michael Lewis
PASADENA, Calif. — For once and for all, Mexico put to rest any doubts as to which team is the best team in CONCACAF — spectacularly.
Overcoming a two-goal deficit in the first half, El Tri struck for four unanswered goals — two in each half — to roll past the United States and capture the CONCACAF Gold Cup behind a rousing 4-2 triumph on Saturday, June 25, 2011.
Two years ago, the Mexicans rolled over the Americans, 5-0, to capture the Gold Cup crown, although many critics and observers dismissed that result and felt that the game was not a true indication of the strength of both teams since the U.S. used essentially a B team.
On Saturday, the Mexicans left no doubt before 93,420 fans, most of them rooting for El Tri, at the Rose Bowl.
Besides the Gold Cup trophy, El Tri actually earned another prize: A trip to Brazil in 2013 to represent the confederation at the FIFA Confederations Cup.
“There’s no better moment than victory,” Mexican coach Jose Manuel de la Torre said. “Everything else is in the past now.”
U.S. coach Bob Bradley had a different perspective.
“When you let it get away, it’s an empty feeling,” he said.
Midfielder Pablo Barrera struck for two goals, including the game-winner in the 50th minute, and Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos, the man of the match, also scored for the winners, while Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan found the back of the net for the Americans.
Javier Hernandez — aka Chicharito — who finished as the tournament’s Golden Boot winner, did not score, but his presence certainly helped his teammates to get open.
“We deserved the win,” dos Santos said.
The six goals set a record for a Gold Cup final, eclipsing the 2009 championship encounter.
The triumph capped one of the most memorable Gold Cup runs for any champion in the 11 editions of the tournament. The Mexicans outscored their opposition, 22-4. They began the competition with a pair of 5-0 routs of El Salvador and Cuba and continued it with a 4-1 romp over Costa Rica. Life became more difficult in the knockout round as they edged Guatemala in the quarterfinals, 2-1, and needed extratime to prevail over Honduras in the semifinals, 2-0.
“They’re as dynamic as any [Mexican] team that I’ve ever played against,” U.S. forward Landon Donovan said. “They’ve got a few guys who can change the game in a heartbeat. Between Guardado, Barrera and Giovani and Chicharito, they can make special plays. They’re explosive. If you give them a lot of space, they’re going to make plays, especially on a big field like. It certainly played to their advantage.”
Dos Santos, the man of the match, took advantage of a major weaknesses on the right wing as he turned into a handful for the Americans to cover.
“He does a great job,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “He pulls wide. He isolates you and then he comes inside. It’s hard to to get tight on him. when you do, he does his magic. So, they’ve got more than just dos Santos doing it to you. They did a good job of passing. They did a god job of hitting us over the top. Sometimes you think of Mexico of one-two and touch-touch. They opened us up and they played us over the top.”
On Saturday, the Mexicans were forced to overcome a two-goal deficit, although they made it look easy at times.
No one realized it at the time, but the game’s turning point occurred in the 11th minute when U.S. right fullback Steve Cherundolo was forced to the sidelines with a sprained left ankle. Jonathan Bornstein was brought into the back at left back and Eric Lichaj switched to right fullback.
It did not take the Mexicans to determine the Americans’ weakest link and they attacked unmercifully down the right flank, as all of their goals originated from that side.
“Certainly the injury to Stevie hurt,” Donovan said. “He’s been a bit part of this team. That back four had done really well for the last three games, hadn’t given up a goal. It not only affected us from a soccer standpoint, but from a leadership and morale standpoint. It’s unfortunate.”
The Rose Bowl was a sea of green shirts with red speckled here and there.
When the U.S. took and left the field for pre-game practice, they were heartily booed. Not surprisingly, when the Mexicans hit the pitch they were cheered.
After a Cherundolo cross was blocked and knocked over the goal line, Adu took a corner kick that Bradley managed to flick past goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera at the near post and into the left corner for a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute
The Americans doubled their lead in the 23rd minute when Donovan latched onto a Clint Dempsey feed and broke into the penalty area and fired a low shot into the left corner for a 2-0 advantage. It was Donovan’s 13th Gold Cup goal, which moved him past Mexico’s Zaque, to set a tournament record.
“You’re worried and you don’t want to become disorganized,” de la Torre said. “The United States was playing well. They surprised us with the first goal. We pushed too far up in the second goal. Fortunately, we were able to maintain our calm.”
Only 20 seconds after the Mexicans replaced Carlos Salcido with Jorge Torres Nilo, El Tri cut the lead in half as Barrera beat Bornstein on the right side and found plenty of room in the penalty area and beat Howard with a laser to the near post in the 29th minute, breaking the Americans’ 353-minute scoreless streak.
The Mexicans equalized off a counterattack in the 36th minute. This time dos Santos beat Bornstein on the right flank and fired a shot that Howard knocked away. With Howard out of the net, Guardado had an easy tap-in for a 2-2 deadlock.
“Ideally at that time you want to get to halftime at the minimum of 2-0,” Donovan said.
Added Howard: “Our game plan worked to a ‘T’. They came out and possessed it and spread us out. We picked and chose our spots when to and when to get them. Our combinations were really good up front. Again, we hit them. It’s beyond me how they rallied back from that.”
As the second half began, the U.S. could not find a way to hide Bornstein as dos Santos almost scored but Howard tipped away in the 47th minute.
But only three minutes later, the Mexicans took the lead for the first time as they worked the right side. This time it was Pablo Barrera beating captain and central defender Carlos Bocanegra from six yards for a 3-2 advantage in the 50th minute.
“It was an overall frustrating night,” Bocanegra said. “Defensively we weren’t good enough.”
Dos Santos gave Mexico some breathing room in the 76th minute as he forced Howard to come well out of the goalmouth in an attempt to deny him on the right side of the penalty area while the goalkeeper’s teammates could not get the ball away from the forward. When he noticed he did not have much of an angle to shoot at the near post, dos Santos lofted the ball toward the far left open corner. Lichaj jumped in vain to head it out of harm’s way, but could not get to the ball as he hit the goalpost and the ball the back of the net.
“It was a great goal,” said Mexican captain and central defender Rafa Marquez, who was forced from the match with an injury in the 43rd minute. “We’ll forgive him for all the ones he’s missed.”
“It was a pretty goal,” dos Santos said. “I just poked at it and it came out very nicely. It was a reward for the bad start to the match.”
And there probably will be more rewards to come, including bragging rights and that all-expenses paid trip to Brazil in two years time.