Saturday’s Gold Cup final will feature the two teams named as favorites before the tournament began. Though they had two different paths to the final, both teams are no strangers to the CONCACAF tournament finale. Combined, Mexico and the US have won 9 of the last 10 Gold Cup tournaments and will be meeting in the final for the third straight tournament. In 2007, the US beat Mexico 2-1, but in 2009 Mexico took the Gold Cup with a 5-0 stomping of the Americans.
Both teams had some rocky situations at the beginning of the tournament this year. The US suffered its first group stage loss ever to Panama and found itself in a must-win situation against Guadeloupe, and Mexico lost 5 of its original roster players after they tested positive for a banned substance. Both teams however turned their luck around. The US finished its last three games with shutouts and Mexico has gone undefeated thus far outscoring their opponents 18-2.
With their past successes the key match-ups will most likely take place between the US defense and the Mexican attack. The US started off shaky, but after Coach Bradley brought in Lichaj at left back and slid Bocanegra into the center, the US has posted three straight shutouts. Running at the American back four will be Mexico’s “baby-faced killer” Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez who is having a very productive tournament after finishing his first season in England with Manchester United. Most of the responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Bocanegra who will be responsible for keeping the back line secure and together. Our outside backs have done well on defense and in the attack so far and hopefully still have one more game left in them so they can deal with more speedy wingers.
The big stories in the midfield have been Donovan’s absence from the starting line-up and Adu’s triumphant return to the national team. I wouldn’t expect Adu to do any more than come in as a late game substitute, but it was good to see him suit up once again. The question of Donovan is a bit trickier. Donovan has been a figure in the recent Mexico-US rivalries and I can’t imagine that Bradley would sit him for a third straight game. However, bringing Donovan in as a second half sub worked well for the US and having him on the bench has given Bedoya and Kljestan their chance to have a greater impact. Will Bradley mess with a line-up that has worked two games in a row?.
When Altidore went down with a hamstring injury, the US lost its go-to forward option. However, Agudelo has stepped up from his poor group stage performances and filled in well, nearly scoring against Panama with a diving header. Against Mexico, Agudelo is going to have to stay in form and preferably improve more in order to break through a back line that has only allowed two goals this tournament and to take some of the attention away from Clint Dempsey, who is having an amazing tournament for the US and is surely on Mexico’s radar as our more dangerous attacking player. Dempsey could see himself up top this game, but chances are Bradley will keep the formation that has worked for the team the past two games.
There are two factors that could aid Mexico’s chances of winning the cup. Despite the US hosting the tournament, a sold-out crowd at the Rose Bowl will mean a greater number of Mexico supporters. Is there any amount of success the US team can accomplish in order for them to have a real home crowd against Mexico in the South West? The other factor will be fatigue. The US has had no opportunity to rest any of our starters (with the exception of Donovan) so far this tournament. The final marks the US’s 6th game in 18 days and with only a three-day turnaround from them semi-finals there could be some heavy legs on the field. Mexico will also be experiencing fatigue after the team needed an extra 30 minutes to take down Honduras.
Kick off for the final is scheduled for 8:00 CST with pregame starting at 7:30. You can catch all the action on FOX Soccer and Univision.