Yep, that was Michael Lewis’ credential for the 2005 Gold Cup, him and his dog Jennie.
By Michael Lewis
It’s been almost two decades since I covered my first Concacaf Gold Cup in 1998.
For the record, I wrote about the 2000 tournament, missed out on the 2002 Cup, but have written about the tournament from the stadiums from 2003 through 2017. I couldn’t cover the 2019 edition because of the Women’s World Cup in France.
This year? I am covering it from afar.
So, that makes 10 Gold Cups, live and in person.
By my count, I have been to 17 stadiums, starting with the old Orange Bowl in Miami in 1998. The others included three in New Jersey — Giants Stadium and MetLife Stadium (both East Rutherford, N.J.) and Red Bull Arena (Harrison, N.J.), Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.), Soldier Field (Chicago), Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia), PPL Park, now Subaru Park, (Chester, Pa.), Raymond James Stadium (Tampa), Georgia Dome (Atlanta, Ga.), Ford Field (Detroit), Children’s Mercy Park (Kansas City, Kansas), AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas), MNT Bank Stadium (Baltimore), Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif), the University of Phoenix Stadium (Phoenix, Ariz.) and Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.).
My memories of the tournament have been unique, on and off the field.
I have witnessed a riot, two U.S. teams win championships with their suspended coaches sitting in a sky box, dramatic comebacks and upsets and even had a picture of my dog on my credential.
Read on for the details:
A first time for everything (1998)
I have to admit, I don’t remember too much about my first Gold Cup and perhaps there was a good reason. It wound up as a scoreless draw between Jamaica and defending World Cup champion Brazil at the Orange Bowl.
I was so turned off by the match — and I was in the middle of completing my book on the 1998 World Cup and I was covering the MetroStars and the Major League Soccer draft — that I did not attend the second encounter in Miami two days later, when Brazil tied Guatemala. My colleagues said it was a much better match.
I figured I would have some more opportunities down the line, somewhere, sometime, and I was correct.
The great escape (2005)
Bruce Arena did not have an opportunity to celebrate his team’s 11th-hour goals in its incredible 2-1 comeback victory over Honduras Thursday night. Instead, the U.S. national coach was forced to watch the final 31 minutes of the Gold Cup semifinal on TV from the Jets locker room in the bowels of Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. by himself after he was banished.
He watched John O’Brien equalize in the 86th minute and then witnessed defender Oguchi Onyewu head in Landon Donovan’s 30-yard free kick two minutes into stoppage time.
“What a great win for our players,” Arena said. “I thought they played exceptionally well in the second half.”
The U.S. needed some late-match heroics to remain alive and keep its newly acquired title as the sixth-ranked soccer team in FIFA’s latest rankings.
“Of course there was a sense of urgency,” said Onyewu, who helped set up O’Brien’s goal. “I don’t think anyone wanted to play 30 extra minutes. Everyone was really tired at that point. Luckily, the game wasn’t 45 minutes or 60 minutes.”
The triumph also continued the U.S.’s penchant for pulling out games and World Cup qualifiers in the final. “It’s not easy that way but a lot of teams don’t keep fighting there,” Donovan said. “A lot of teams throw the towel in and that’s it. Eventually, they broke down.”
Arena watched the U.S.-Panama final from the stands Sunday (the Americans defeat Los Canaleros in a shootout after playing to a scoreless draw).
The incident in question happened in the 59th minute as Arena protested a foul by Chris Armas. Arena said he used a four -letter word. Carlos Batres of Guatemala, the fourth official, apparently felt the language was too strong and alerted referee Peter Prendergast of Jamaica, who ordered the coach off the field.
“I was baffled at the time,” Arena said.
Arena has a history with Prendergast, getting slapped with a three-game suspension (eventually cut to two matches) after protesting a penalty kick call the Jamaican native made during a World Cup qualifying loss in Costa Rica almost five years to the day July 23, 2000.
“Peter Prendergast is an excellent referee,” Arena said. “We get along very well.”
He added: “I don’t understand the protocol. That decision is made by the fourth official and not by the referee.”
(Editor’s note: Assistant coach Glen Myernick directed the USA for the final, which was decided by penalty kicks after 120 minutes of soccer. In 2015, Jurgen Klinsmann could not coach the U.S. in the that final vs. Panama after he was given his marching orders in a semifinal win).
An American soccer riot (2000)
The ugly scenario occurred 17 years ago on Feb. 19, 2000 — during the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal match between Peru and Honduras ended in fan violence in the final minute at the Orange Bowl. Peru was leading at the time, 5-3.
Fortunately, there were no deaths or serious injuries that day, although 34 fans were arrested.
As it turns out, I was at the stadium that Saturday night. In the first encounter, the Americans were eliminated by Colombia in a penalty-kick shootout after they lost the lead. Most of the U.S. media contingent, wanting to beat the traffic, left the stadium before the second game was finished.
Grahame Jones of the Los Angeles Times, the South Florida media and myself were the only Americans left. We just wanted to watch soccer. What we witnessed was something surreal and scenes that I hope I never will see again, especially in person.
I described the scenario “the most embarrassing incident” in the Gold Cup, which saw one of the ugliest fan disturbances in American soccer history.
It’s a pity because that game was an entertaining encounter before chaos reigned and the fans’ frustrations faced off against police on the field in the waning minutes. About 20,000 of the 32,972 spectators at the game reportedly were Honduran supporters.
“We had a crowd that went from a calm contingency of people which turned into chaos,” Miami police spokesman Delrish Moss was quoted by the Associated Press.
Let’s set things up:
Waldir Saez had boosted the South Americans to a 5-3 advantage in the 87th minute.
The Hondurans pushed forward with an 11th-hour comeback. Carlos Pavon had an apparent goal called back due to an offside call by Chilean referee Mario Sanchez, a former FIFA referee who officiated at the World Cup and the Olympics.
Not surprisingly, Pavon was angry. He was so peeved that he kicked the ball into the stands. Not a good idea. Sanchez slapped the Pavon with a red card. Milton Reyes protested and he also given his marching orders.
With 37 seconds remaining in the match, hundreds of Honduran fans raced onto the field in protest. Security personnel and police were overwhelmed. Sanchez called the game with 37 seconds remaining. Some fans battled with police while many who remained in the stands threw anything they could get their hands on. That included rocks, liquor bottles, water bottles, water balloons, souvenir seat pads, and even seats they had ripped out from the stands.
Both teams and their coaching staffs bolted for the safety of their locker rooms as Sanchez and the officiating crew were given a police escort off the field.
Fans fought police – backups in riot gear were called in – and security personnel for some 45 minutes.
“Sadly, it was a beautiful game with a lot of goals, but it was a sad incident that ruined everything,” CONCACAF deputy general secretary Ted Howard said at the time.
Sad and ugly, indeed.
Pavon and Reyes were suspended for two matches, which they served in the next round of qualifying for the 2002 Gold Cup. The Honduran Football Federation also was slapped with a $5,000 fine by the competition’s disciplinary commission for misconduct and inciting the crowd.
Hopefully, this will be the worst violence we will ever see at a soccer match in the U.S.
When the U.S. was not semi(final) tough (2015)
The U.S. paid dearly for five minutes of poor defense in the semifinals and found itself crashing out of the tournament in a 2-1 defeat to Jamaica.
Major League Soccer players Darren Mattocks and Giles Barnes did the damage for the Reggae Boyz late in the first half at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Michael Bradley tallied for the USA.
The shocked Americans failed to reach the final for only the third time in 13 attempts, joining the 1996, 2000 and 2003 squads.
The Jamaicans played Mexico, which got past Panama, 2-1, in a controversial game that featured two penalty kicks for the winner, the second game of doubleheader, in Philadelphia.
The USA was relegated to the third-place match in Chester, Pa.
To appreciate the magnitude of the defeat, it was only the Americans’ second loss to a Caribbean team on home soil. That was to Haiti in a World Cup qualifying match, 1-0, on May 11, 1969.
“It’s very disappointing, very frustrating,” Bradley said. “You have no divine right to be in the final. We certainly didn’t think that. We knew from the get-go this was going to be an extremely difficult tournament. It was.”
Klinsmann was just disappointed. “Obviously the team is disappointed,” he said. “The fans are disappointed because you wanted to play the big final in Philadelphia. I cannot complain about the performance of the team. We kept pushing, pushing, pushing. They hit the wall and went through it and kept going until the end.”
After playing well for the opening 25 minutes, the game changed for the Americans during a five-minute span late in the first half as the defense allowed the Caribbean side to strike twice.
First, Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence’s throw-in set up an open Mattocks with a header in the box that hit the right post and then bounced along the line before settling into the left corner in the 31st minute.
Only five minutes later, goalkeeper Brad Guzan was called for a handball just outside of the penalty area and the Jamaicans were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Barnes, who plays for the Houston Dynamo, ripped a perfectly placed free kick into the upper right corner for a stunning 2-0 Jamaican lead.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that called, especially when it’s a matter of inches,” Guzan said. “If the linesman is three yards behind me, I think that’s an impressive call from his point of view.”
As for the free kick, Guzan said: “Listen, he’s 19 yards out, he has to hit it well to get over the wall and back down again.”
B-B-B-B-B Benny puts on the jets (2007)
Goal-scoring heroes in Gold Cup finals can come in all shapes and sizes and experience.
Take, for example, Benny Feilhaber, who tallied the game-winning goal for the United States in its 2-1 triumph over archrival Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup championship match at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The 22-year-old midfielder had all of eight international appearances and one goal scored entering the match as he made the most of his opportunity in the 73rd minute to break a 1-1 deadlock to lift the Americans to their second consecutive Gold Cup crown.
Feilhaber scored off a spectacular 22-yard volley from a poor clearance.
Andres Guardado had given Mexico a 1-0 advantage in the 18th minute before Landon Donovan converted a 62nd-minute penalty kick tied the game and him with Eric Wynalda for the U.S.’s all-time scoring lead with 34 goals apiece.
Donovan called the goal “unbelievable. I was wide and a little bit right and as it came I was going, ‘Don’t shoot it.’ . . . Maybe it’s one in a thousand he scores that goal.”
Added Feilhaber: “At such a stage against Mexico, it’s incredible.”
After Feilhaber’s heroics, there were still some nail-biting moments. DaMarcus Beasley hit the right post and Ching the crossbar as goalkeeper Tim Howard was forced to make a point-blank save on Adolfo Bautista’s eight-yard shot in the 89th minute.
“It was nice to win the Gold Cup, but it’s a little sweeter when we beat Mexico,” finished U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra.
A final blowout (2009)
It took only 34 minutes for Mexico to wipe away 10 years of frustration and humiliation that Sunday. Buoyed by five second-half goals during that span, the Mexicans registered a 5-0 victory over the U.S. at the Gold Cup final before 79,156 partisan fans at Giants Stadium.
The last time the Americans lost to Mexico on U.S. soil was in San Diego, a 2-1 result on March 13, 1999. Since then the U.S. enjoyed a 9-0-2 advantage, limiting the Mexicans to only three goals.
Of course, the Americans will remind the Mexicans they weren’t using their A team that finished second at the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa the previous month, essentially a side that was relatively inexperienced internationally. The Mexicans used five starters from their full squad, the Americans one — Brian Ching.
“We just lost our composure,” Ching said. “They punished us.”
“That’s not what we’re all about,” coach Bob Bradley said. “We have to look hard at ourselves.”
The Mexicans struck quickly over a 34-minute span in the second half to turn a rather bland scoreless tie into a rout. The wheels started to fall off the U.S. wagon in the 56th minute when captain Gerardo Torrado converted a penalty kick into the upper right past goalkeeper Troy Perkins after defender Jay Heaps dragged down Giovani Dos Santos in the penalty area.
The goal and lead certainly emboldened the Mexicans, who used three counterattacks to pad their lead. First it was Dos Santos converting a rebound of a Miguel Sabah shot in the 62nd minute. Second half substitute Carlos Vela set up Sabah, whose shot was saved by Troy Perkins. The ball came to Dos Santos, who slipped it home from close range. Only five minutes later, Vela came down the left side on a counterattack and chipped the ball to the far right post for a 3-0 advantage.
The Mexicans made it 4-0 in the 79th minute as Jose Antonio Castro converted yet another counter from 12 yards. The visitors closed out the scoring in the 90th minute as Guillermo Franco struck from the top of the penalty area.
You can’t win them all (2011)
After referee Marco Rodriguez of Mexico whistled the end to one of the biggest upsets in Gold Cup history, the post-game scene at Raymond James Stadium said it all in Tampa that Saturday night, June 11, 2011.
A dejected U.S. team walked quickly off the field toward its locker room after Panama stunned the four-time tournament champions with a 2-1 victory.
The joyful Panamanians, on the other hand, slowly walked toward a small contingent of their fans to enjoy the historic moment. After all, it isn’t every night you snap a home team’s 26-game unbeaten streak in the group stage of the Gold Cup and make some major international headlines as well.
“Panama usually doesn’t need a reason to celebrate, but this will definitely make them celebrate,” Panama coach Julio Cesar Dely Valdes said. “It’s an historic moment. We, as a coaching staff, have to keep our feet on the ground to make sure that we are successful in the other games.”
Panama had entered the game with a 0-6-2 record vs. the Americans, being outscored 18-4 in the process. The Central American side also was 0-2-1 vs. the U.S. in the Gold Cup, including dropping the 2005 final via penalty kicks.
The win boosted the Central Americans atop Group C with six points, three more than the U.S. and Canada.
Midfielder Landon Donovan gave the winners their due. “Give Panama a lot of credit,” he said. “They started the game well, took the initiative to be aggressive. When you dig yourselves a hole that huge sometimes you can’t get out of.”
Watching them close it out (2013)
Mariano Rivera did not get an opportunity to close out the Yankees’ game at the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas Wednesday July 24, 2013, because his team wound up on the end of a 3-1 result.
But the New York Yankees’ ace reliever and Panamanian baseball legend managed to watch his favorite soccer team in the world put the finishing touches on and close out its own game — a 2-1 victory over Mexico in the Gold Cup semifinals at Cowboys Stadium a couple of hours later.
“I mean, that was spectacular,” Rivera said outside the Panama locker room. “I’m grateful to the lord to allow us to play the game the way we played and allowed us to come out on top. That was great. I am humble to see my team play the way they did and win.”
After grabbing a 2-1 lead in the 61st minute, Panama survived a late-match surge by the Mexicans.
“Oh my god, it was a hard one, but it was great, it was a great, a beautiful game,” Rivera said in a separate interview with FOX Soccer. “Pins and needles the whole time definitely, definitely.”
Asked about how big the result was in Panama, Rivera told me: “It’s big anywhere. You beat a Mexico team, it’s huge.”
Rivera said he was a huge soccer fan and follows Los Canaleros on a regular basis.
When asked who his favorite soccer player, Rivera replied, “All of them.”
On the flip side, Rivera has many fans on the Panama team.
Coach Julio Dely Valdes was quite pleased Rivera attended the final minutes of the match as Panama reached the Gold Cup final for only the second time. On Tuesday, Rivera met with the team.
“It’s very positive,” he said. “That’s what Mariano transmits. It tells the national team that he has a lot of faith in us. He wants to be with us. It makes us happy to know that Mariano is from Panama. He’s an idol. We were saying in the locker room . . . that the Yankees should play in Chicago this Sunday. We were able to have Mariano yesterday and today with us. It has been great, very important to us.”
Rivera was honored by the Rangers as he is making his final swing through the American League this season, his final season.
“It’s great, great, great, great ovations, great experience,” he said. “You just want to keep going. We want to do our best and thank God we are able to do it.”
A cliché becomes reality (2011)
You’ve probably heard the cliche many times: a two-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in soccer. Mexico proved that and then some in the 2011 final before a pro Mexican crowd at the Rose Bowl in the 2011 final.
Staring down a 2-0 deficit at the Rose Bowl, life looked rather bleak for El Tri in the final. Bradley (eight minute) and Donovan (23rd minute) had given the USA the lead.
But the Mexicans never gave up. By halftime the Mexicans had equalized behind Pablo Barrera (29th minute) and Andres Guardado (36th minute) before Barrera’s second goal lifted Mexico into a 3-2 advantage for good five minutes into the second half.
Dos Santos put an exclamation point on the victory with a marvelous chip shot from the right corner of the penalty area over goalkeeper Tim Howard.
“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.
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,” 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.”
Kemar’s free kick is costly to Mexico (2017)
Originally, Kemar Lawrence wasn’t going to take the decisive free kick in Jamaica’s 1-0 victory over Mexico that turned the Concacaf Gold Cup on its head and etch his name into Jamaican soccer history Sunday night.
Midfielder Michael Binns was ready to attempt the 24-yard attempt in a scoreless game in the 88th minute at the Rose Bowl.
In the 86th minute of a scoreless match with the seven-time Gold Cup champions, Mexico’s Hugo Ayala fouled Binns two yards from the penalty arc.
Jamaican forward Owayne Gordon and Binns stood to the left and right of the ball, respectively, with the latter ready to take the free kick as Lawrence ambled up from his left back spot and a discussion ensued.
“We discussed who wanted to kick it,” he said. “I wanted to kick it, but a couple of guys felt confident. So as one of the team leaders you don’t want to kill anyone’s confidence. So I said all right. We’re going to allow Binns to take the free kick.”
Lawrence, however, had a divine intervention.
“But I stepped back and it was like God spoke to me and said, ‘Kemar, go and kick the ball.’ I just said to Binns, ‘I want to kick it’ and he’s like, ‘All right.’ ”
In a bit of gamesmanship, the Red Bulls left back repositioned the ball as a Mexican player protested.
“When I placed that ball down, I wasn’t thinking about the goal,” he said. “I was thinking about God. I simply asked him to carry this ball to where we wanted it to go and he did that.”
That’s when Lawrence launched a curling shot with his left foot over a four-man defensive wall into the top corner as goalkeeper Jesus Corona did not move a muscle.
The other goalkeeper, Jamaica’s Andre Blake, was well positioned some 80 yards away to watch history in the making.
“I had a perfect view,” he said. “It was a great shot, a great moment. I’m very happy for the kid. He stepped up in a big moment when we needed someone to make a play for us. That’s great.”
After the ball nestled into the upper left corner, Lawrence, 24, pointed much higher, to the heavens. He was honoring his late grandmother, Norma Seymour, who passed away in March at the age of 60.
“After the goal that was all I could have thought about, my grandmother,” he said. “Just wish she was there to see that moment. After the goal, honestly, there were only two things on my mind: God and my grandma.
“Everything I am doing right now, in MLS, right here, I’m dedicating it to her. God first, always, but definitely to her.”
If you’re counting, that was Lawrence’s third international goal in 35 appearances for Jamaica since 2013 and his second off a free kick. The first was in a 3-1 loss to Canada Sept. 9, 2014.
Asked if he had ever taken a free kick that perfectly placed, the man known as Taxi replied with a smile.
“I had a couple, had a couple. Right now, the timing on this one, right place, right around the wall. Fun feeling.”
Lawrence doesn’t take free kicks for the Red Bulls. Usually Sacha Kljestan and Felipe do the honors. He said that the team knows he can take free kicks, but the left back hasn’t attempt any yet.
“Jesse loves Sacha, that’s why,” Lawrence said with a laugh.
Then he became serious.
“I’m kidding,” he said. “Sacha is a really good free-kick taker and Felipe practices a lot. I see those guys kick so many every day and I am confident in those guys to take it. But I always tell them if they need a third one, I am there.”
The dog days of the Gold Cup (2005)
No dog actually has been credentialed for a Gold Cup match to my knowledge, though one certainly came close.
Well, she actually had her picture on an accreditation badge for a major soccer tournament in 2005.
As I had for other media credentials, I used a picture of my Cocker Spaniel Jennie and myself for my head shot and someone at the accreditation tent outside of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. used the entire photo instead of my mug shot.
It turned into the joke of the tournament as soccer officials and writers got a good laugh about the photo. I joked that I could bring her to the Giants Stadium for the semifinals and final.
In dog years, Jennie had an incredible run, passing away two days after her 17th birthday.
In soccer years, it wasn’t too shabby as well, as she was around for the 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups, including qualifying for 2010.