Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been
World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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Gold Cup - Wrapup
Jack Warner usually gets what he wants, and what he wanted this time was a USA-Mexico final. But, amazingly, CONCACAF fans also got what they wanted, a thrilling climax to the 2007 Gold Cup. The Big Two delivered a superb match, one of their best ever, and for two hours you could almost forget that their path to the final had been smoothed by some less-than-competent refereeing.
Almost. We dealt with Mexico's "break"--the red card to Costa Rica's Allan Alemán--last time. The USA outrage was even worse: a clear tying goal by Canada, on the last kick of the match, disallowed on an incomprehensible offside call. The referee was Mexico's Benito Armando Archundia, and that's a story in itself. First of all, as Canada's Stephen Hart pointed out, you don't assign a Mexican referee to a match whose winner is likely to play Mexico. Second, you don't appoint Archundia to a key match involving Canada. That's because he's the guy who shafted them in a 2004 WCQ match against Honduras with two badly blown calls in the final few minutes. Archundia isn't always a bad ref, but almost anyone else would have been preferable for this game. It was a direct slap in the face to Canada.
Even so, there were three ironies attached to the final, fateful decision. The first is that it was linesman Ricardo Louisville of Surinam who put up the flag, and you can't really blame Archundia for that--although he should have seen that Oguchi Onyewu had played the ball before the pass got to Atiba Hutchinson, which would have removed any potential offside. Not that it should have mattered, because Hutchinson was onside anyway. But that at least was the linesman's call, not the ref's.
The second irony was that Archundia called a pretty good game; in fact, you could even say he bent over backwards to be fair to Canada. He showed no hesitation when he red-carded the USA's Michael Bradley in the 89th minute. More importantly, he allowed a surprising 4 minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game, and let the teams play a few seconds beyond that. The false flag wouldn't have mattered had he called for a more logical 2 or 3 minutes, or even blown the whistle precisely at 4.
The third irony was that the USA had done enough to win anyway. Led by fine performances from Frankie Hejduk and Michael Bradley, they had played an excellent defensive game, easily containing the tournament's most exciting attacking side. For the first 72 minutes of the match, Canada had only one chance from open play, when Hejduk's flying block denied Hutchinson. True, in the first half, after an early flurry, the USA hadn't shown all that much themselves. (I've been harsh on Canada's centerbacks, but here they were all you could ask for, particularly Richard Hastings.) Still, in the 40th minute Hejduk drove home a remarkable first-time 25-yard shot off the post, and a few minutes later, Landon Donovan converted a PK when DaMarcus Beasley got by Paul Staltieri and Pat Onstad took him down. In the second half the Yanks had looked consistently more dangerous on the counter than Canada on the attack. You couldn't say the lead was unjust.
But as we've mentioned before, the USA defense has been brittle all along, and they couldn't last the full 90. In the 76th minute Carlos Bocanegra allowed Iain Hume too much space, and Hume scored on a beautiful strike from the top of the area. And then of course there was the final breakdown, with only seconds to go, which should have been punished on the scoreboard.
There's little you can say when a team gets robbed so blatantly. For most of the game the USA had been the stronger side, but you can't deny a team their rightful comeback just because they were dormant most of the evening. It was a wretched, wretched call, just a disgrace. Even the first-rate final can't erase the memory.
But the final, despite a few slow moments in the first half, was indeed first-rate. Mexico had again looked ordinary in their semi against Guadeloupe (aside from Pavel Pardo's brilliant 30-meter game-winning strike), but they took the play to the Yanks right from the start. With Andres Guardado raiding on the left, and Nery Castillo slipping in, out, and around the defense, they were more dangerous than at any time in the tournament. The USA were inconsistent, but still managed two excellent chances; Beasley and Clint Dempsey were robbed by a sensational Oswaldo Sánchez.
It was Mexico who took the lead in the 44th minute. A really neat bit of work from Castillo beat Oguchi Onyewu on the right, and his low cross was converted on a slide by Guardado. It was the just reward for the Tri's effort, and you could forgive Hugo Sánchez if he thought he was about to get a very big monkey off his back. It looked like Mexico's first road win over the USA since forever (only 1999, actually, but for the Tri fans that's forever).
Speaking as a USA supporter, I confess at halftime I thought Mexico would win. The Yanks had never beaten them in a Gold Cup final, and as usual the Soldier Field crowd was predominantly pro-Mexico. This is also a young team, and got even younger when Bob Bradley replaced Pablo Mastroeni with Ricardo Clark at the interval.
But Clark turned out to be a great substitution. At his best he can offer two-way play from the middle of the field, and he was at his best on Sunday. Moreover, the whole side seemed somehow more energized, more ready to go. They went all out on attack, and if that left a few gaps at the back, so be it. Mexico finally had Rafa Márquez in the lineup, and he was playing well, but he couldn't be everywhere. Sánchez had to make a double save only two minutes in. Eventually it was the other centerback, Jonny Magallón, who was beaten on the key play. In the 62nd minute Brian Ching got isolated one-on-one back to goal in the area, took a pass from Jonathan Spector, then turned quickly. Magallón, off-balance, stuck out the knee, and Ching went down. Penalty. The replay showed that the contact wasn't terribly hard, but also showed that the call was correct.
Whereupon ensued one of the great confrontations of the tournament, much more than the ordinary PK showdown. Sánchez was on fire, a good bet to save anything near. Landon Donovan had converted penalties in his last three games, two with low shots straight down the middle, one on a soft low shot not far to the keeper's left. Had Sanchez seen the tapes? He had. He bounced up and down--and stayed put. But Donovan changed up, shooting hard at mid-level well to the keeper's left. Had Sánchez guessed correctly, the shot might have been savable. But he didn't, and the USA were even.
And ten minutes later they were on top, on a golazo worthy to win any tournament. Donovan's corner kick was headed out by Omar Bravo, and it came straight to Benny Feilhaber, who unloaded an unstoppable cross-shot volley into the corner.
The rest of the game was a breathless back and forth. Hugo threw on Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Adolfo Bautista (much too late, the Mexican press would comment), and the Tri buzzed around the USA half. The USA counterattacked with gusto, Ching hitting the post after a super individual move. In the 89th minute came the equalizing chance: another fine move by Nery Castillo led to a pinball sequence, and Bautista found himself unmarked about 8 meters from goal. He shot--but there was Tim Howard to deflect over the bar. In injury time Bravo and Onyewu collided in the area, and Bravo went down, but Carlos Batres said no. Mexico kept up the pressure, but for once the USA defense was equal to the task. Full time 2:1.
This may not be a vintage Mexico side, but still it was a tremendous accomplishment for the USA. Without leaders like Eddie Pope, Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride, and Kasey Keller, they came from behind in a championship game. The home advantage was neutralized by the hostile crowd. In the Bruce Arena era, they used to beat the Tri by playing defense and counterpunching. This time they won an uptempo game with an attacking mindset. Mexico may feel like they're jinxed when they venture north of the border, but the USA were unquestionably worth their win.
Were they worth the championship too? Hard to say. In truth neither they nor Mexico ever looked dominant: Canada and Honduras at their best showed more. And of course you can't forget the phantom offside in the semifinal. I'd love to see another Canada-USA match.
And despite the officiating, I'd love to see another tournament like this one. Almost everyone brought their best squad, almost everyone went on the attack, there were plenty of upsets, plenty of great goals, and best of all, NO GUEST TEAMS. It was a true CONCACAF championship. Are the bosses smart enough to see this? Maybe not. And in 2009 we'll be in the middle of World Cup qualifying, and we're unlikely to get the same quality squads. But let's bask in this one for a while, shall we? We're almost a real live confederation now. Almost.
And here's an all tournament team:
GK (tie): José Francisco Porras (Costa Rica) and Oswaldo Sánchez (Mexico). You can't leave either one off. Porras was very impressive on and off his line, and Sánchez as always was a premier shot-stopper.
LB: Carlos Salcido (Mexico). Still a class act both on attack and defense.
RB: Oscar Garcia (Honduras). Always lively and exciting.
CB: Richard Hastings (Canada). Improved with every game, and by the end was marking and positioning beautifully.
CB: Victor Cordero (Costa Rica). Solid, which was more than you could say for most centerbacks in this tourney.
M: Stéphane Auvray (Guadeloupe). Had a mediocre final game against Mexico, but impressed at the anchor spot.
M: Julian De Guzman (Canada). The main force in the Canada midfield, he scored and created. Named official player of the tournament.
M: Atiba Hutchinson (Canada). A true all-rounder, and should have had the tying goal against the USA.
M: Andres Guardado (Mexico). A constant threat on the left.
F: Landon Donovan (USA). Played both midfield and forward, but let's put him here. Ice-cold PK's and his usual class with the ball.
F: Carlos Pavón (Honduras) Tough choice, since no one really stood out as striker. But he did score five goals.
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