Gold Cup final a classic

June, 24, 2007
Wow. What a game. That's all one can say after watching the Gold Cup final between the U.S. and Mexico, a matchup that showcased the best that CONCACAF has to offer, and a game where neither team truly deserved to lose, such was the quality of play -- and fittingly won by an All-World long-range strike from Benny Feilhaber.

Given the U.S. team's win, there's no doubt that the U.S. is unquestionably the No. 1 team in the region right now (if it wasn't already before), a fact that even Mexican striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco admitted.

"They [the U.S.] deserve to the No. 1 team in CONCACAF," said Blanco to reporters after the game.

Here's what I think about the game:

1. Bob Bradley's aggressive approach. It's completely refreshing to see a U.S. team try to take the attack to Mexico, regardless of Mexico's superior technical skill, as opposed to playing defensively and relying on the counter attack. The U.S. arguably created more clear-cut chances in the first half than Mexico, even while falling behind, and were denied only by a strong performance from Mexico's Oswaldo Sanchez and its own haphazard finishing in the second half. (DaMarcus Beasley, just how do you miss that open goal?) Furthermore, Bradley seems to be more tactically astute than his predecessor Bruce Arena in his ability to make halftime adjustments. Can anyone remember the last time the U.S. came back from a first-half deficit against a quality opponent? Bringing on Ricardo Clark for Pablo Mastroeni was a masterstroke that turned the game around, as was sticking with Brian Ching and Benny Feilhaber after a lukewarm first half. The U.S. team's defense as a whole still needs a lot of work --although Carlos Bocanegra was superb today -- but there's no doubt the quality of the attacking buildup play has improved under Bradley's watch.

2. Brian Ching moves to the top of the logjam at forward. While the U.S. continues its seemingly neverending search for a pure out-and-out goal scorer (Jozy Altidore anyone?), at least it can take solace in the fact that in Ching, it at least has a reasonable imitation of venerable vet Brian McBride. Following a quiet first half, Ching left it all on the field in the second half with his all-round play, earning the crucial penalty kick that brought the U.S. back on level terms and being denied what would have been a classy goal only by the inside of the post. When you take into account his telepathic understanding with Landon Donovan, dating back to their days as Quakes' teammates, the only question is just who his partner should be -- at this point in time, Clint Dempsey might still be the best option.

3. Mexico's Nery Castillo. The best player on the field by a country mile, even overshadowing the dangerous Andres Guardado. Watching Castillo tear shreds in the U.S. back line time after time, my only thought was -- just what was Hugo Sanchez doing keeping Castillo on the bench for most of the Gold Cup tournament? Castillo might be overly individualistic to a fault at times, but combined with Guardado, and the future promise of starlets Giovanni Dos Santos and Carlos Vela, and you could be looking at an attacking quartet for El Tri that will terrorize CONCACAF for years to come.

4. Landon Donovan delivered the goods yet again against Mexico. While he remains the player that Mexican fans love to hate, there's no doubt that the U.S. playmaker has surely earnt the respect (albeit begrudgingly) of the Mexican team by now. Give double credit to Donovan for coolly slotting home the crucial penalty in a pressure situation, and making an adjustment by placing it firmly in the corner when almost everyone (including Sanchez it seemed) was expecting him to blast it down the middle yet again.

5. Is Mexican coach Hugo Sanchez' job in jeopardy? Two losses to a hated rival, questionable lineup choices and an uneven Gold Cup tournament as a whole prior to the final, might see the end of Sanchez' reign. Sanchez had Mexico amped and ready for the final from the onset, but surprisingly and foolishly opted to keep the pressure on and pile on the attack in the second half instead of preserving the lead. Instead of closing down defensively, playing possession football and making life difficult for the U.S. by forcing it to pass through the midfield or revert to hopeful long balls, Mexico kept the game wide-open, something which ultimately came back to haunt them. Foolish ego or too much of an attacking mind-set? Only Sanchez knows the answer to that.

Jen Chang is the U.S. Soccer editor for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes regularly and is a contributer to Soccernet podcasts. He joined ESPN Studio Production in 2004 and earned a Sports Emmy award, before making the move to in 2005.


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?