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The Beautiful Game’s Greatest Ambassador

You can certainly argue that no one knows the American game as well as Tony Meola.

The recent National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee took time out of his busy schedule to promote the beautiful game, working as a brand ambassador for Allstate during a busy MLS All-Star week.

Photo Credit: Rob Ivory/

Talking to media was just one part of Meola’s itinerary. The most important was participating in a Good Hands FC event, where Meola and the good people at Allstate surprised a local soccer team with new gear, All-Star game tickets, and a whole lot of soccer expertise and advice.

“This one is extra special for me. I got so much out of living in Kansas City. I never thought I could pay it back.”

He shared his thoughts on a variety of topics, starting with the MLS All-Star Game.  Meola thinks the MLS-All Stars will do well against Roma, that our league’s best can be competitive against quality talent from around the world.

“The coolest part is getting to see Michael Bradley on the other side of the ball,” Meola added.  Bradley, who turned pro at 16, now is a top prospect for the Italian side that will be taking on the best from MLS.

“He is a player engraved in the hearts of many soccer fans, including myself.”

Meola also called the U.S. victory in the Gold Cup a “great accomplishment,” offering his congratulations to Jurgen Klinsmann and the entire U.S. squad.

“They played with the right attitude, the right flair. They were fun to watch.”

He admitted that “the downer” of the tournament was the injury to U.S. midfielder Stu Holden.  The Bolton star has experienced four major injuries in a little over 3 years.

“He always has a smile and positive thoughts.  I’m convinced he will come back and we will see him on the field again.  Everyone is rooting for him.”

Meola’s involvement with Allstate shows how important corporate sponsors are to the growth of the American game.  Developing players and improving our standing on the global stage is only possible with the long-term support of companies like Allstate.  That is crystal clear.

U.S. Men Fall 4-2 in 2011 Gold Cup Final

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.

Mexico Awaits U.S. in Gold Cup Final

The U.S. Men’s National Team advanced to an unprecedented fourth straight CONCACAF Gold Cup final this evening displaying patience and poise in a 1-0 victory against Panama at Reliant Stadium. The U.S. will face Mexico for the third straight time in the final after the USA’s archrival defeated Honduras in the second semifinal.

In a defensive match against Panama that didn’t see many chances for either side, Clint Dempsey scored his third goal of the 2011 Gold Cup in the 76th minute after a great service from Landon Donovan set him up for a sliding finish from close range at the left post.

“It was a really good team effort, a hard game for sure, but in all ways I thought that the mentality of the group was looking for ways to win,” said U.S. head coach Bob Bradley. “The first half I thought in stretches we had a pretty good rhythm with the ball. The second half was harder. Panama did a good job keeping things very tight, and now you have to look for different ways to win the game. Defensively we were solid, and I thought we put a very good play together to score a great goal.”

The game-winning goal started innocuously in the USA’s own defensive end, but quickly turned dangerous after second-half substitute Freddy Adu hit a perfectly placed long ball to Donovan who was making a run down the right flank. Donovan collected the ball near the right corner of the penalty area and with space in front of him dribbled towards goal before hitting a low laser through four Panamanian defenders to Dempsey who directed the ball into the net with his left foot from two yards out.

The 2011 Gold Cup final will take place on Saturday, June 25 at a sold-out Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Kickoff for the match is set for 9 p.m. ET, and the match can be seen live on FOX Soccer and Univision. FOX Soccer will also have a 30-minute pre-game show beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET.

The U.S. and Mexico shard the spoils during the past two Gold Cup finals, with the U.S. taking the 2007 final 2-1 while Mexico pulled away late in 2009 to defeat an inexperienced U.S. squad for a 5-0 victory. The U.S. will be seeking its fifth Gold Cup title and a berth in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.

“The games come quickly, there is travel, and we knew coming into it that that’s what it would be like,” Bradley said. “We’re lucky that we have a number of guys that have been through it before, and so we’ve earned our way to the final. For a second we can feel good about that, but now obviously everything will be aimed at being ready for Saturday.”

Bradley went with the same lineup as the quarterfinal match against Jamaica, making only one change up front with Juan Agudelo starting for Jozy Altidore. Altidore pulled his hamstring against Jamaica in the ninth minute of that match, and after an MRI earlier this week was deemed out for the next four to six weeks. The start was Agudelo’s first since the USA’s last match against Panama in group play.

In a first half that saw limited opportunities for either side, the U.S. had the best opportunity with a header by Agudelo rattling the woodwork in the 25th minute. After eluding a couple of defenders along the right sideline, Alejandro Bedoya slipped the ball forward to Steve Cherundolo and he quickly sent in a cross into the penalty area. Agudelo did well to head the ball down toward goal, but after bouncing off the ground it only found the top of the right post.

The only other chances of the half came in the 34th minute when Jermaine Jones hit a volley near the top of the box that went wide right, and then Panama earned a free kick in the final minute along the left edge of the penalty area, but the attempt to sneak one past goalkeeper Tim Howard was well over the bar.

In the second half, there were a few more opportunities for both sides but overall the match remained a defensive and midfield battle. A total of 13 shots were taken between the two teams, and only three on goal with the U.S. doubling Panama’s single attempt. The shutout was the 24th in Howard’s career, tying him for third all-time with Brad Friedel.

Howard’s defensive line was up to the challenge of shutting down a Panamanian attack that scored two goals in their last meeting, doing so with solid positioning and working together to close down any threats in the final third. Panama was also without Blas Perez, who drew the penalty kick in the first meeting against the U.S., after receiving a red card between the end of regulation and the start of extra time against El Salvador in the quarterfinal.

The first dangerous chance for Panama came in the 61st when a cross from the left flank looked like it would fall to a streaking Alberto Quintero, but the forward couldn’t get a foot to the skipping service and it rolled harmlessly through the area.

On the other end, in shades of his goal against Jamaica, Jones unleashed a volley from the top of the penalty area in the 67th minute but this time his attempt went wide.

Three minutes later, Howard earned his shutout with his lone registered save of the night when Armando Cooper got free on the left side of the penalty area and ripped a high drive on target. Howard stretched and got just enough on the shot to ensure it went over the bar.

After taking Panama’s best shot, the U.S. goal started when Adu won a loose ball 40 yards from goal and one-touched it back to Michael Bradley. The U.S. midfielder pushed it out wide right to Bedoya, who provided it back to Adu in the center circle and he delivered a penetrating ball to Donovan.

The goal was Dempsey’s 22nd of his career, placing him in sole possession of fifth place all-time behind Joe-Max Moore (24), Brian McBride (30), Eric Wynalda (34) and Donovan (45).

This was the fourth consecutive Gold Cup where the U.S. has knocked out Panama. The consecutive meetings began in 2005 when the teams played to a scoreless draw in the final, with the U.S. hoisting the trophy after a 3-1 victory in a penalty shootout. Subsequently, the U.S. defeated Panama 2-1 in the quarterfinals of each of the next two tournaments, the U.S. requiring added time for a Kenny Cooper penalty kick to send the U.S. into the semifinals in the 2009 victory.

The U.S. now 4-1-1 against Panama in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and 7-1-2 overall with 20 goals scored and six allowed.

USMNT Advances to the Semis

The U.S. Men’s National Team put together its best performance in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup this afternoon with an impressive 2-0 victory against Jamaica at RFK Stadium to advance to the semifinals.

The U.S. dominated the match and created numerous chances, finally breaking through in the second half when Jermaine Jones’ one-timer from the top of the penalty area found the back on the net. After a red card to Jermaine Taylor, the U.S. used their man advantage to put the game away with an attractive passing sequence the led to a well-composed finish from close range by Clint Dempsey.

The victory extended the United States’ unbeaten record against Jamaica to 18 matches and was their largest margin of victory in a Gold Cup quarterfinal match since 2005.

The U.S. will face Panama in the semifinals on Wednesday, June 22, at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. Kickoff for the match is at 6 p.m. CT can be seen live on FOX Soccer and Univision. FOX Soccer will also have a 30-minute pre-game show beginning at 5:30 p.m. CT.

In the other quarterfinals played on Saturday, Mexico defeated Guatemala 2-1 while Honduras got past Costa Rica on penalty kicks. Mexico and Honduras will face off in the other semifinal match of the evening, kicking off at 9 p.m. CT.

“I thought we played a good game today. From the start we were able to do a good job establishing control, passing the ball and keeping the ball,” said U.S. head coach Bob Bradley. “It took a while to get the goal and the second goal, but certainly as far as establishing our game today I thought we did an excellent job.”

Dempsey and Landon Donovan both returned to the team early this morning after being excused from camp earlier in the week to attend their sisters’ weddings on Saturday. After evaluating all factors, the coaching staff decided to have Dempsey start and put Donovan on the reserve list. It was a rare occurrence for the all-time leading scorer to be used off the bench, and he entered in the 66th minute to make his first appearance as a substitute since the 2007 Gold Cup against Trinidad & Tobago.

While replacing Donovan, the coaching staff also changed up the formation, opting for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Jozy Altidore up top as the lone forward. Alejandro Bedoya and Sacha Kljestan made their first starts in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, with Bedoya playing on the wing normally patrolled by Donovan and Kljestan sliding into the center.

While the U.S. dominated the majority of the match, Jamaica provided an early scare with a fantastic opportunity after a U.S turnover near midfield in the fourth minute. Dane Richards dribbled up the right side and cut into the penalty area before sliding the ball back to Rodolph Austin who mishit his shot but the ball managed to skip through the U.S. defense to Ryan Johnson unmarked at the left post. Howard came up with an impressive save on Johnson’s point blank shot, and the U.S. was fortunate that Luton Shelton skied the rebound from nine yards out while staring at a wide-open net.

Four minutes later, the U.S. was dealt a blow when Jozy Altidore pulled up holding his left hamstring after running down a long ball. The forward tried to walk it off, but shortly gestured to the U.S. bench that he needed to be substituted and Juan Agudelo was brought in a few minutes later after a quick warm-up on the sideline.

Dempsey once again was active in the attack and tested Jamaica goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts for the full 90 minutes. In the 13th minute, Bedoya did well to head a cross back to Dempsey near the top of the penalty area and he hit a sliding volley hard on target, but Ricketts was able to push the attempt over the bar.

A minute later, Dempsey did well to keep a ball in play inside the penalty area and then put in a dangerous ball across the goalmouth, but no one was able to get a foot to direct it on goal.

Dempsey continued his barrage against the Reggae Boyz with a free kick in the 36th minute, hitting a swerving shot near the top of the goal but again Ricketts was up to the challenge with a right-handed save to parry it over the crossbar.

On their heels for the previous 30 minutes, Jamaica did well to build a counterattack after a U.S. corner kick. Richards ran onto to a pass into the left side of the penalty area and cut back against his defender to take a shot from a tough angle, but Howard was barely tested at the near post.

After the Jamaica attack, the U.S. once again took control and produced five more shots in the final six minutes of the half. In the 39th minute, Kljestan hit a strike from 24 yards out that forced Ricketts into a save, and then a minute later Dempsey tried an ambitious bicycle kick from 12 yards out off a corner kick that went just wide. Bedoya found himself in the same location as Dempsey shortly after but his snap header off a Klejstan cross went wide left as well.

Agudelo was active all game despite coming on unexpectedly for the injured Altidore and almost put the U.S. up in the 42nd minute. With three defenders shadowing him, Agudelo did well to create some space to hit a drive from top of the 18 that Ricketts had to stretch out to keep the ball from finding the net. The rebound fell to the left for Jones, but he couldn’t get a solid strike on the ball from a tough angle.

With a minute left in the half, Michael Bradley slipped a ball into the penalty area for Eric Lichaj, but the young defender’s one-timer was swallowed up by Ricketts.

The U.S. came out with the same attacking mentality in the second half, and finally got past Ricketts with a little help in the 49th minute. Lichaj hit a cross into the penalty area that was headed out by Jermaine Taylor, falling to Jones near the top of the penalty area. Jones struck the ball first time through traffic where Taylor stuck out a foot to block the shot, but instead deflected it to the left side of the goal leaving Ricketts helpless as he dove the other way. The goal was the first of Jones’ career with the U.S. in nine appearances.

Later in the half after a throw-in deep on the right sideline, Cherundolo served in a ball that skipped through to Dempsey at the far post. Dempsey’s dove to get his head to the cross from five yards out but again Ricketts was able to thwart the chance by quickly shifting to his right to make an impressive save with his chest.

Behind the stellar performance by Ricketts, Jamaica was able to hold on to the hope that they could get back in the match but that all changed in the 67th minute when Taylor was sent off for denying Jones a goalscoring opportunity. A pass by Dempsey ricocheted off two Jamaican defenders and fell to Jones in the center circle where he took a good initial touch to get past Taylor with a clear path to goal. Trailing Jones, Taylor slid and tripped up the midfielder about 40 yards from goal.

In the 79th minute, Kljestan won a loose ball, dribbled forward toward the midfield stripe and provided a perfect through ball for Donovan who got behind the final defender. Donovan took a touch but Ricketts came out of the box to cut off his angle, forcing Donovan to drop the ball back to Dempsey. Instead of taking a shot from distance, Dempsey played it back to Donovan who was called offside as Ricketts was in advance of the ball but a Jamaican defender was covering the goal line.

A minute later, Dempsey finally broke through with his second goal of the 2011 Gold Cup to solidify the win for the United States. The U.S. won the ball and quickly got it to Agudelo, who dribbled up the right side and played a beautiful give-and-go with Donovan to break down the three Jamaica defenders that were tracking back. Agudelo slipped the ball across the penalty area for Dempsey who cleverly took a composed touch to his left to avoid the onrushing Ricketts, then calmly tapped the ball into the open net.

Dempsey’s goal was the 21st of his career, putting him tied with 2011 National Soccer Hall of Fame Inductee Bruce Murray for the fifth-most goals scored in U.S. history. Dempsey has scored four career Gold Cup goals, including two in the 2011 Gold Cup.

Search for Gold Continues for U.S. Men

The U.S. Men’s National Team advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup this evening with a dominating 1-0 victory against Guadeloupe at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in their third and final Group C match.

The U.S. controlled the entire match against Guadeloupe and created 21 shots but Jozy Altidore’s impressive strike from distance in the ninth minute was their only goal on the night.

The U.S. will face Jamaica in the quarterfinals at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, June 19 at 3 p.m. ET. The match can be seen live on FOX Soccer and Univision. FOX Soccer will also have a 30-minute pre-game show beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.

“Overall, it was a good performance,” said U.S. head coach Bob Bradley. “It’s certainly a game at the end where we still feel we should have finished the game earlier. We had good chances to get the second goal. There were a lot of positives, and now we get ready to move forward.

“Our goal has always been to get to the final. We understand from experience what it means in group play. You have to deal with each game and find a way to advance. I think there are things there that bring the group together, and now we get ready for the knockout phase and approach it one game at a time.”

With Canada and Panama drawing 1-1 earlier in the evening, the U.S. could only finish as high as second, making this the first time ever they didn’t win their group in Gold Cup history.

In their first-ever match against Guadeloupe, Bradley made two changes to the starting lineup from the first two group games. Eric Lichaj earned his first Gold Cup appearance in place of Tim Ream, and Chris Wondolowski replaced Juan Agudelo up front. With the changes, Carlos Bocanegra moved inside to play in the center of the defense alongside Clarence Goodson. 

Despite the dominating performance, it was Guadeloupe that had the first dangerous opportunity off a corner kick in the third minute. A near post service wasn’t cleared by a number of capable U.S. players, allowing the ball to skip towards the back post. Goalkeeper Tim Howard only got a slight touch to it and Landon Donovan’s clearance hit Clint Dempsey before Stephane Zubar pounced on the loose ball but his strike from 12 yards out struck the crossbar.

After that initial scare, the U.S. began their overwhelming dominance but were continually thwarted either due to poor finishing or remarkable saves by Guadeloupe goalkeeper Franck Grandel.

Clint Dempsey was active all evening and created numerous chances on goal, but wasn’t able to find the back of the net. He provided the USA’s first chance of the night in the sixth minute when he unleashed a free kick from 28 yards out, but Grandel was able to make the diving save.

While Grandel would come up with a number of saves during the rest of the half, he had no chance on Altidore’s goal, the 12th of his national team career. After a poor clearance by Guadeloupe, the U.S. put together a string of 13 consecutive passes inside their attacking half before Bradley found Altidore to his right. The forward dribbled to create some space before unleashing a 25-yard blast into upper right corner. 

Jermaine Jones initiated the next goal-scoring opportunity in the 24th minute when he hit a driven ball from just inside the center circle to the far right corner for Steve Cherundolo. After a settling touch near the endline, Cherundolo sent in a perfectly-placed cross to wide-open Dempsey at the six-yard box, but the midfielder’s header went agonizingly wide left.

The U.S. continued the onslaught and Dempsey hit a well-struck shot from outside the penalty area in the 31st, but Grandel once again made the save.

Ten minutes later, even when Grandel made a gaffe with a poor pass off a free kick that allowed the U.S. to create a quick attack, he was able to make up for it with two fantastic saves. Off the turnover, Altidore slipped Wondolowski into the penalty area with a great through ball, but Grandel denied the San Jose striker with a foot save. The ball stayed in play and Wondolowski ended up with another chance, but his left-footed strike from 12 yards was gobbled up by Grandel with a low dive to his right.

The U.S. continued to have the better of the play in the second half and during a six-minute span had three chances just miss. The first came in the 54th minute when Jones served a long ball from midfield into the penalty area and Altidore showed his strength by holding off two defenders to get off a shot, but his attempt was deflected out for a corner. Donovan had his best chance of the game three minutes later on a nice passing sequence with Dempsey and Jones, but his final touch from six yards out missed the target. A couple minutes later, Dempsey’s 30-yard free kick was on target but hit the top of the cross bar.

Dempsey looked assured to score in the 76th minute when Bedoya’s square pass in front of the net provided him with a wide-open goal him six yards out, but he took a settling touch and before he could tap it home, Julien Ictoi raced back and cleared it off his foot. 

Dempsey had one final chance to get his deserved goal on the night in the 92nd minute, but his spinning shot inside the penalty area went wide right.

The quarterfinals begin on Saturday, June 18 with two matches at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. In the first match, Costa Rica will face Honduras, followed by Mexico and Guatemala. Following the U.S. match on Sunday at RFK, Panama will take on El Salvador.