Mexico celebrates their victory over the United States in the Gold Cup final in Pasadena, California. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard took exception to an all-Spanish post-game ceremony on U.S. soil.AP
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard reacts as soccer fans celebrate a goal by Mexico's Giovani Dos Santos during the second half of CONCACAF Gold Cup final soccer match.AP
When Mexico routed the United States in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final two years ago, some of the media, critics and other observers dismissed the 5-0 romp because the Americans essentially used their B team.
They felt it was not a true indication of the dominance of the Mexican side.
The Americans' No. 1 side had just finished securing a surprising second-place finish in the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Given a chance to play for the title again against the U.S.'s A team, El Tri brought their A plus game to this year's final in a 4-2 triumph.
On Saturday night, the Mexicans left no doubt. Overcoming a two-goal, first-half deficit, they put on a scintillating show, entertaining the mostly pro Mexican-crowd of 93,420 at the Rose Bowl and millions watching on television.
What they saw was the tournament favorites living up to their potential as the best Mexican side in years, if not in generations.
“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.
Ironically, the superstar of the team -- (please fill in the proper superlative adjective here), Javier Hernandez, who might be better known to the planet as Chicharito -- did not score in the assault, although he left with the Golden Boot for leading everyone with seven goals and the Golden Ball as the tournament MVP.
Chicharito still was a presence, whether it was passing the ball in dangerous situations or helping his teammates find holes in a U.S. defense that was stretched beyond limits, at times.
It might be difficult to remember, but the Americans actually grabbed a 2-0 lead behind goals from Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan.
“You’re worried and you don’t want to become disorganized," de la Torre said. "The United States was playing well. They surprised us with the first goal. We pushed too far up in the second goal. Fortunately, we were able to maintain our calm.”
The U.S., who usually dominated the Mexicans on American soil for years before last year's final, marveled at their foes.
"They're as dynamic as any [Mexican] team that I've ever played against," U.S. forward Landon 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 this. It certainly played to their advantage."
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, who had to take the ball out of his net four times, also praised his arch-rivals.
“They’ve got some special players," he said. "I thought we’d knocked the stuffing out of them at 2-0, really hit them where it hurt. Take your hat off to them. They are a good bunch of players.
“Our game plan worked to a ‘T.’ They came out and possessed it and spread us out. We picked and chose our spots when to and when to get them. Our combinations were really good up front. Again, we hit them. It’s beyond me how they rallied back from that.”
Dos Santos, the man of the match, took advantage of a major weaknesses on the right wing as he turned into a handful for the Americans to cover.
While he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle with the adulation for Chicharito, dos Santos is a superbly talented, lethal player in his own right. After Jonathan Bornstein replaced an injured Steve Cherundolo on the U.S. backline, dos Santos exploited that weakness time and again, ripping holes through the defense, usually on the right side.
"He does a great job," Howard said. "He pulls wide. He isolates you and then he comes inside. It's hard to get tight on him. When you do, he does his magic. So, they've got more than just dos Santos doing it to you. They did a good job of passing. They did a god job of hitting us over the top. Sometimes you think of Mexico of one-two and touch-touch. They opened us up and they played us over the top."
Dos Santos scored what could be the goal of the tournament in the 76th minutes. With Howard coming out of his net to close down the angle at the top right of the penalty area, dos Santos somehow chipped the ball into the far left corner as defender Eric Lichaj leaped in vain to deny the goal.
"It's a great goal," Bradley said. "It's one of those special goals."
If Howard and his teammates weren't happy with the result, they certainly weren't enamored with what transpired afterwards. Howard cursed tournament officials because the post-game ceremonies were in Spanish.
For the U.S., it was bad enough that most of the crowd of 93,420 was pro-Mexican. But while it felt like the game was played at Azteca Stadium, the match was held at the Rose Bowl in the U.S.
"CONCACAF should be ashamed of themselves," Howard said after the U.S. lost to Mexico, 4-2 in the final on Saturday. "I think it's a [expletive] disgrace that the entire post-game ceremony was in Spanish. You can bet your ass if we were in Mexico City, it wouldn't be all in English."
Despite the controversy, 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.
“We are the best team in the Cup and that’s all that matters at the moment,” Hernandez told reporters.
With such a resounding performance and fabulous results comes great expectations.
Like it or not, every time the Mexicans play, they will be expected to duplicate that performance, especially against the U.S. That doesn't sound fair, but the Mexican sports fans are demanding, even if those demands are a bit unrealistic.
That's how it is when you do well in Mexican soccer. The ante gets higher.
But for one night, if not for several weeks or months, El Tri should be allowed to enjoy their achievement.
After all, it's not every day they rout their arch-rivals on their home soil.
Michael Lewis, who has written about soccer for four decades, is the only journalist who has covered every MLS Cup. He is in Columbus to cover Sunday’s game, and can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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