Sunday, July 26, 2009

ATH: WTH?? Mexico 5 USA 0

Mexico Resets Rivalry
GoldCup By Clemente Lisi - EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ (Jul 26, 2009) USSoccerPlayers

The United States is second best once again this summer – and again it was down to a second-half lapse.

With 79,156 crammed into Giants Stadium on Sunday in suburban New York, Mexico routed the US 5-0 in the Gold Cup final. The mostly pro-Mexico crowd got the win they wanted, but the how should have left most in attendance shocked.

The stunning loss ended the US’s eight-year unbeaten home streak against CONCACAF teams at 58 games. The victory also marked Mexico’s first win against the US on American soil this decade (the US had posted a 9-0-2 home record in the previous 11 meetings).

Although the US was playing at home, the sticky 86-degree temperature and a sea of green-clad fans chanting “ole’” each time the Mexican midfield strung together a series of passes made that advantage questionable. The poor response after going down 1-0 didn’t help either, as Mexico scored four more goals in a span of 26 minutes to grab the win.

Coach Bob Bradley said the US was unable to stop the game from “becoming a free-for-all.” "We gave them all sorts of space and opportunity,” he said.

Neither country sent its best team to the biennial tournament, with the US fielding a squad comprised largely of MLS players unproven on the international scene after using its regulars in the Confederations Cup in South Africa. Despite Sunday’s score, several second-string players -- particularly midfielders Stuart Holden, Robbie Rogers and Kyle Beckerman -- performed well enough at the Gold Cup to suggest additional opportunities.

Mexico was also missing several big names, relying instead on veteran striker Miguel Sabah and midfielder Gerardo Torrado, who was wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of Rafa Marquez.

Players like Holden and Beckerman showed once again why they should play at international level. Holden had a solid first half, creating plays and intimidating the Mexican defense with a series of set pieces and corner kicks. In the 28th minute, Holden unleashed a rocket from just outside the penalty area that sailed just wide of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s net. Six minutes later, Beckerman’s shot went high over the crossbar after he retrieved the ball near the top of the area after the Mexican defense had failed to clear the ball. The problem for the US was its inability to finish off scoring chances – something that would come to haunt them later in the game.

The Americans, who had won the previous two Gold Cups, effectively played one-touch soccer for large chunks of the opening half, allowing them to move the ball forward with ease as the Mexican defense double-teamed Holden and striker Brian Ching in order to keep them off the scoreboard. For their part, Mexico used the long ball for most of the afternoon. Sabah and Alberto Medina tried to use the counterattack to get past the US defenders, but it didn’t work. Mexico came closest in the 45th minute when Medina attempted a run along the right flank, but his shot went wide to the left of goalkeeper Troy Perkins.

The US dominated possession in the first-half, outshooting El Tri 7-3, but the Mexicans hung on to keep the game scoreless at halftime. By game’s end, Mexico and the US were tied with 14 shots apiece.

A pep talk from Bradley at halftime didn’t serve the players well in the second-half as the US began to fall apart. The game changed in the 55th minute when Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell whistled a controversial penalty kick in Mexico’s favor after defender Jay Heaps appeared to bring down Giovani Dos Santos in the box. TV replays later showed that the call had been a bad one, with Dos Santos elbowing Heaps in the face as both players hit the turf. The call could have gone either way. Torrado converted the kick and Mexico was up, 1-0.

It was all Mexico after that. With the US defense stretched to the max in an attempt to tie the game, Mexico again used the counterattack – this time with success -- to double the score. El Tri had a chance to get on the board again with a breakaway in the 61st minute, but Perkins came up with a point-blank save on Sabah to limit the bleeding.

With the US defense virtually non-existent, Mexico made it 2-0 three minutes later when Dos Santos scored off a rebound following a scramble in front of the US net that Perkins was not able to stop. The goal was cause for the crowd – and astonishingly the partisan reporters assembled in the press box – to celebrate wildly.

A desperate Bradley made two substitutions in the 64th minute to try and generate some offense. Striker Kenny Cooper came in for Davy Arnaud and Santino Quaranta for Logan Pause. The changes didn’t help generate much offense as Mexico ran up the score in the 70th minute when Carlos Vela netted on a breakaway.

If that wasn’t enough. Mexico turned the match into a rout, scoring again in the 79th minute with an unmarked Jose Antonio Castro slipping past the defense to shoot the ball past Perkins, who could only watch helplessly as the ball rolled over the line.

With tensions running high, Heaps was red carded with two minutes left after a rough foul on Vela. The man-advantage allowed Guillermo Franco to make it 5-0 in stoppage time to end the game, which had turned into a scrimmage at that point for the Mexicans. In the end, Mexico walked away with the trophy as the stunned American players left the field with their heads down.

The game, however, was no prelude to the much-anticipated August 12th World Cup qualifier between the two sides since most of the players on the field will not be involved in that game. Instead, next month promises to be a very different encounter. Hopefully for the United States, it will also be one with a very different outcome.

Clemente Lisi is the author of “A History of the World Cup: 1930-2006.”

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