This is the final that everyone expected, and virtually everyone wanted to see. While the road to the Rose Bowl hasn’t been simple for either team (see the US loss to Panama in the group stage, or Mexico’s narrow extra-time victory over Honduras in the semifinal); was their really any doubt that the continent’s two juggernauts would be vying for the regional title? Since the Gold Cup began in 1991, either the US (4 wins, 3 runner-up finishes) or Mexico (5 wins, 1 runner-up) has won all but one of the titles – Canada won in 2000.
With the region’s two premier teams playing for the title, the game has gotten a lot of attention in the national media. This morning, ESPN had Alexi Lalas on SportsCenter discussing the match. The Worldwide Leader couldn’t resist mentioning that the US has lost just once to Mexico on US soil since 2000, though that one loss was a 5-0 drilling in the 2009 Gold Cup final, though this blog post by Scott French of ESPN Los Angeles should make some USMNT fans feel better. According to French, the US has outscored El Tri 21-8 in matches outside of Estadio Azteca since 2000. Throw the 5-0 beating out, and the difference jumps to 21-3 in 12 matches!
Goalkeeper – The easiest comparison of the bunch. Tim Howard, as mentioned before is one of the best in the world. He’s at the top of his game and a true difference maker. Take a look at this save (about 2o seconds into the video) against Jamaica to see what I’m talking about. Alfredo Talavera, however, has Guillermo Ochoa and his failed doping test to thank for his spot in the starting XI. Advantage: USMNT
Defense – Bob Bradley seems to have found his starting back 4 with Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra and Eric Lichaj all playing well in the past 3 games. Lichaj and Cherundolo have been dangerous moving forward, though they will have to defend much more against Mexico than they have in previous matches. The US back line has not conceded a goal since the loss to Panama but will certainly be tested against Mexico. El Tri’s back 4 of Rafa Marquez, Héctor Moreno, Efrain Juarez and Carlos Salcido have conceded just 2 goals the entire tournament, though they have yet to be truly tested. Advantage: Push
Midfield – Mexico plays with a classic four man midfield. Two central midfielders (Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro) and two wingers (Andres Guardado and Pablo Barrera. Barrera has played well in the Gold Cup, scoring 1 goal and assisting on 3 others. Guardado may not start due to an ankle injury. If Guardado can’t go, Giovani Dos Santos would likely slot into his spot. Expect Bob Bradley to start a five man midfield, as this formation has worked in the last two games. While Landon Donovan hasn’t started the last two games, he HAS to be on the field. He’s a big game player for the US and has played well against Mexico in the past. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya should keep their spots in the lineup. Dempsey has been extremely good, and Bedoya has transferred his fine form with Örebro to the USMNT. Though the US has played well, Mexico is better from a technical standpoint. (slight) Advantage: Mexico
Forward – Though the goalkeeper comparison is one-sided, this is the area of the field where the difference between the two teams is most apparent. Javier Hernandez has been a revelation this season. Chicharito scored 20 goals for Manchester United in 45 appearances and has netted another 10 goals in 8 appearances for El Tri. Seven of those goals have come in the Gold Cup. With Jozy Altidore out with a hamstring injury, the US will likely start 18-year-old Juan Agudelo up top. Agudelo has shown flashes, but he’s no match for Hernandez. Advantage: Mexico
Prediction – While Mexico holds the advantage from an individual talent perspective, the US is greater than the sum of its parts. In addition to the team mentality that permeates the USMNT camp, the US team believes it can beat Mexico. No matter how partisan the crowd, and in Southern California it will likely be extremely pro-Mexico, the USMNT has proven time and again that it has the mentality necessary to defeat its southern rivals. Score: USMNT 2 – Mexico 1.