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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

NEWS - Mexico beats U.S. to win the Gold Cup

By Leander Schaerlaeckens - ESPN.com

PASADENA, Calif. -- A prodigal son came of age Saturday night. But no matter how good the long-lost Freddy Adu was for the U.S., it wasn't good enough to beat Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final. Even if he did help his side build a 2-0 lead.
In a mind-bending first half, the U.S. ran out to a lead by the ninth minute, when Michael Bradley was free to head home a corner from Adu. By the 24th, incredibly, the Americans had doubled the score when the outstanding Adu fed Clint Dempsey. He zipped the ball into space for Landon Donovan, who made it 2-0.

Until then, the U.S. had been playing it by the book against Mexico, absorbing enormous amounts of pressure by sitting deep and trying to maximize chances on the counter. But therein was the flaw to coach Bob Bradley's strategy, as it became quite evident that Mexico's pressure was always going to be too much to handle. The inexhaustible Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez ran rampant off the slow U.S. defense and found Pablo Barrera on the right in the 28th minute. Barrera blew by substitute Jonathan Bornstein, who had come on after Steve Cherundolo left in the 12th minute because of an injury, and wrong-footed Tim Howard by playing the ball to the near post, making it 2-1.

Not long thereafter, Michael Bradley, who had earlier allowed Chicharito the space to connect with Barrera, lost track of Andres Guardado, who ran onto a Giovanni Dos Santos cross that was first blocked by Eric Lichaj at the far post. That made it 2-2 in the 35th.

As the first half progressed, the U.S. seemed to be getting more of a hold on possession, keeping the ball better and leaving itself less prone to Dos Santos' tormenting runs. Adu, playing up front with Donovan, started to drift wide, which allowed him to hold the ball long enough for his teammates to catch up and for Alejandro Bedoya to dive under him. This also gave the U.S. defenders a breather. But as the U.S.'s grip on the run of play tightened, its grip on the actual scoreline turned to mush. By the end of the half, it was Mexico playing on the counterattack, as the reversal of form and approach became complete.

In the second half, Mexico burst forward when it could, leaving the U.S. to take control of the ball once more. On a poor U.S. clearance in the 49th minute, Barrera got way too much space on the right, as Bornstein was nowhere to be found, and whipped the ball with the outside of his boot past a surprised Howard to make it 3-2.

That sealed it. The euphoria that engulfed a preposterously pro-Mexico crowd of 93,000 seemed to sap all the belief from the scrappy and gritty U.S. team. Although Mexico sat deeper, the U.S. was hardly ever dangerous after that, with only a Dempsey shot thundering off the crossbar and Bradley hitting it wide of an open goal.

Mostly, this defeat was the design of Dos Santos, who had carved up the U.S. midfield and defense with such gleeful chops. He emphasized this in the 76th minute when he received the ball deep in the U.S. box ahead of (again) Bradley. Dos Santos kept it away from Howard as the U.S. keeper frantically scrambled on all fours, before skipping past Carlos Bocanegra and curling the ball into the far upper 90 for Mexico's fourth goal.

It was a fitting exclamation point to a masterful performance by Mexico.