U.S. passes test
Mexico's best not good enough to beat Americans
Posted: Sunday June 24, 2007 6:47PM; Updated: Monday June 25, 2007 3:30PM
One hundred percent.
Before the tournament, Mexico coach Hugo Sánchez said his team would be at its best when it reached the Gold Cup final. A sluggish start to the tournament gave way to a Tricolor side that started finding its form and piling up the results.
With a determined, focused and strong Mexico side on display Sunday at Chicago's Soldier Field, Mexican players should be left with one thought in their minds: 100 percent wasn't good enough.
The U.S. captured its second consecutive Gold Cup title with a convincing 2-1 victory over Mexico in Sunday's final. In a game filled with drama, desire and dangerous plays, it was CONCACAF's best who came out on top.
The result was just. Bob Bradley's side had played the most consistent soccer of the tournament and only an offside call in a 2-1 semifinal win over Canada tarnished the accomplishment.
Although a U.S. victory over Mexico is nothing new -- the U.S. improved to 8-0-1 over El Tricolor on American soil in its last nine games -- the manner in which this one played out was intense, possibly more so than any of the other previous eight matches. Both Mexico and the U.S. called on living legends from their respective sides such as Oswaldo Sánchez and Landon Donovan as well as future stars like Mexico's Andrés Guardado and Nery Castillo and Americans Jonathan Bornstein and Benny Feilhaber.
Youth was on display in the first half as both sides threatened to score but brilliant goalkeeping from Sánchez, however, kept the U.S. from scoring. It was the budding Mexican stars who finally capped an outstanding first half with a goal. Castillo evaded Oguchi Onyewu and slipped a ball to Guardado on the far post and the Atlas star broke Mexico's 793-minute scoreless streak against the U.S. on American soil.
The Americans answered when Brian Ching won a penalty kick and Donovan converted the spot kick and scored his second goal against Sánchez in as many games.
This one, however, was not followed by a cheap shot on an American player, but rather with more brilliant and dramatic soccer. Feilhaber punctuated that sentiment with perhaps the most beautiful goal the U.S. has scored since Preki's 1998 Gold Cup strike against Brazil. Donovan swung in a corner kick and Jaime Lozano cleared it out. The ball floated to the top of the penalty area and Feilhaber smashed a volley into the back of the net.
The U.S. had a few chances to score a third goal but no matter. The Americans did well to hold off a hard-charging Mexican side to walk away with their fourth Gold Cup title.
Now, both sides are faced with a difficult challenge. Mexico will take most of these same players to the Copa América while the U.S. will bid farewell to many of the established players and welcome a batch of youngsters in its own Copa America bid.
The U.S. has to hope the energy of the victory carries over into its match against Argentina on Thursday. Feilhaber is one of four players who saw action on Sunday that will make the trek to Venezuela. Bradley's task now is to maintain the focus and hope the incoming players carry on the work laid out by the first-stringers.
Mexico's obstacles, though, seem greater. Mexico played in New York, Houston and Chicago. Now, a long flight down to Venezuela faces a team that has played eight games since June 2. Jared Borgetti and Guardado left the field with injuries on Sunday. Guardado was carted off the match after valiantly staying in the match following a head-to-head collision with Jonathan Spector that knocked the American out of the match.
El Tri would do well to match the effort and grit it displayed on Sunday in the coming weeks. Certainly, Mexico must match as much on Wednesday against Brazil to have any hopes of earning a result in its Copa América opener.
Huge Sánchez's job does not become any more difficult despite the loss. He has set a high standard for himself and must follow through with it going forward.
Perhaps a 100 percent effort will yield greater results in the coming weeks.