Who: United States vs. MexicoWhat: Gold Cup finalWhen: 3:00 ET, Sunday, July 26Where: Giants Stadium; East Rutherford, N.J.TV: Fox Soccer Channel and Telefutura
In the end, it was always going to come to this, wasn't it? Although Honduras offered a stiff challenge to the United States Men's National Team and Costa Rica provided an even sterner test to Mexico, both regional powerhouses prevailed in their respective CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal and will meet in Sunday's final at Giants Stadium. It's a rematch of the 2007 final, won by the U.S. in spectacular fashion thanks to a brilliant Benny Feilhaber volley. Both Bob Bradley and Javier Aguirre—who returns from a three-match suspension—are without much of their first team, but the reserves have come together as the Gold Cup has progressed. In the end, it should be El Tri hosting the trophy.
Sunday's match will mark the 13th match the U.S. has played since June 3rd. The journey has spanned two continents, three countries, and 11 different stadiums. All things considered, it's been a successful summer for the USMNT and a Gold Cup championship would be a nice end to the run. Still, the regional championship was more about individual players than the team. It's been difficult to evaluate some members because of constant roster turnover, but Stuart Holden has impressed throughout and made a case that he could fight for a World Cup roster slot. Goodson and Marshall have also played well, but you wonder if they are too far down the depth chart to push for a spot in South Africa. The final represents the last chance, at least for some time, for a guy like Robbie Rogers to impress Bradley and his staff.
A Preview of Sorts
Since FIFA released the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying schedule last year, U.S. players, coaches, and supporters have been looking forward to August 12 when the Americans travel to Azteca. Obviously, the squads that take the pitch in New Jersey will be vastly different from the ones that battle in three weeks time, but it's still U.S. vs. Mexico in the final of an international tournament. The Stars and Stripes, which have created some goals in the run of play but still rely on set pieces to score, will look to the big bodies of Clarence Goodson and Chad Marshall to provide options on corner kicks and set pieces near the Mexican net. The backline will have its hands full keeping Giovanni Dos Santos, who has found himself during the tournament but has struggled to finish against the U.S.—remember the early-match sitter he missed in Columbus?—from creating havoc in the attacking third. Even on home soil, a victory will be a tall task.
Ten Years of Frustration
Mexico, desperate for a solid run of play after some disappointing results in World Cup qualifying, started off the Gold Cup by going 2-0-1 against weak competition during the group stage before hammering Haiti 4-0 in the quarterfinals. El Tri went to penalty kicks with a Costa Rican team featuring six starters who figured in La Sele's 3-1 victory over the U.S. in June, although Aguirre's XI should have won in regulation after going ahead in the 89th minute. In addition to Dos Santos, Miguel Sabah has been an offensive spark plug and leads the Gold Cup with four goals despite missing a penalty in the 56th minute of the semifinal. Carlos Vela and Guillermo Franco have seen limited time due to injuries, but could come off the bench as they did in the semifinals. Aguirre's young squad could be the one to break the American's decade-long dominance over Mexico in the U.S.