The U.S. Men’s National Team lost to Mexico 4-2 in the final of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup in a thrilling encounter in front of more than 93,000 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday.
The USA opened the scoring with goals from Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan to jump out to a 2-0 lead, but Mexico followed with four unanswered goals to earn its second straight Gold Cup title.
“It’s a difficult way for us to end the tournament for sure,” said U.S. head coach Bob Bradley. “As a team we made a lot of progress and we were looking forward to this matchup. It’s a very good game. It’s fast. There’s a lot of very good attacking on both sides. We certainly congratulate Mexico. Give credit to them for some of the soccer they put together and like I said we put a good amount into it and we’re disappointed to let one slip away.”
In a frantically paced first half, the U.S. got the start it was hoping for with an early goal. After winning a corner kick in the eighth minute, midfielder Freddy Adu whipped a ball into the near post where an onrushing Michael Bradley, playing in his first tournament final, hit a perfect glancing header that had too much on it for Mexico goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera. The goal was Bradley’s first in the Gold Cup and his third against Mexico, after netting twice in 2009 in a final round FIFA World Cup qualifier.
Despite the dream start, the mood was tempered by defender Steve Cherundolo’s exit from the game. The experienced right back and big-game performer sprained his left ankle, forcing Bradley to bring on Jonathan Bornstein with his first change of the match in the 11th minute and switch Eric Lichaj to the right.
Mexico’s attacking ability was on display in the early going as well, with Javier Hernandez getting involved in the action. His first chance saw him head over the goal from a teasing Giovani dos Santos cross, and minutes later Andres Guardado teed up Pablo Barrera for a volley that went straight at Tim Howard.
Despite the danger on the defensive end, the USA put together a flowing attacking play to double their lead in the 20th minute. Receiving the ball with his back to goal, Adu turned his man before laying the ball off to Clint Dempsey 30 yards from goal. The U.S. midfielder took a touch before slipping a perfectly weighted through ball into the path of a streaking Donovan. After timing his run superbly, Donovan took one touch before placing a left-footed shot into the goal at the near post. It was his second goal against Mexico in a Gold Cup Final after scoring in 2007, and also set a CONCACAF record with 13 career goals in the tournament all together.
Mexico reacted with urgency after going down two goals and head coach Jose Manuel De La Torre made an early substitution. Carlos Salcido made way for Jorge Torres Nilo in the 28th minute and immediately after the switch, Mexico was back in the game.
Hernandez lifted a ball over the top of the U.S. defense to Barrera, whose one-time finish with his right foot beat Howard at the near post in the 29th minute. The goal gave Mexico momentum and seven minutes later they leveled the match.
In the 36th minute, dos Santos cut inside on the edge of the area where he smashed a shot low to the far post. The ball deflected off Lichaj and bounced back to Guardado, who bundled the ball over the line past Howard from eight yards out to make the score 2-2 before the interval.
After halftime, Mexico jumped on the attack and took the lead in the 50th minute. Guardado won the ball at the top of the box before laying it off for Barrera for a one-time shot with the outside of his right foot that had too much pace for Howard to get a hand on.
Down a goal, the USA continued to throw numbers forward and generate chances. Carlos Bocanegra went close with a header from a Donovan corner in the 52nd minute, and six minutes later Adu tested Talavera with a curling free kick from 25 yards out.
The U.S. continued to push for a goal and in the 59th minute had its best chance of the second half. Bornstein whipped a ball into the box that was half cleared to Dempsey at the top of the box. The in-form midfielder took one touch before drilling a left-footed strike that beat the goalkeeper but smashed off the crossbar.
Mexico sealed its sixth Gold Cup title in the 76th minute when the ever-present dos Santos wrapped up the scoring. Receiving the ball in the box, he eluded the U.S. defense and Howard before pulling back and crafting a delicate chip that evaded everyone and nestled in the top corner.
“I think that they have some very good attacking players and I think that we do too,” Bob Bradley said. “I think sometimes a final becomes a real test of both teams going after each other. That was the way we chose to play this game knowing that it would still require good reactions defensively to deal with those situations. In there, there are some plays where our reactions don’t end up being as good and sometimes there are some plays where at the end you give credit. Dos Santos’ fourth goal is a great piece of skill.”
There were still late chances for the United States, with Clarence Goodson going close after being teed up by late substitute Sacha Kljestan, but it was not to be and the final whistle ended the USA’s quest for its fifth Gold Cup title.