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Golden Mexico just too good for USA

Mexico celebrates Gold Cup v United States
Mexico players celebrate winning the Gold Cup in Pasadena.
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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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You could offer up any number of reasons for why the U.S. men’s national team lost to Mexico in Saturday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup Final, but only one really mattered.

Mexico was just plain better than the United States.

Yes, the Americans had their arch-rivals on the ropes after jumping out to a 2-0 lead, and might have won the match if not for Steve Cherundolo’s departure and Jonathan Bornstein’s subsequent debacle at left back, but the fact remained Mexico won because its young and talented team responded to an early deficit by stepping up its game and flashing the brilliance expected of its Golden Generation.

The attacking quartet of Giovani Dos Santos, Pablo Barrera, Javier Hernandez and Andres Guardado tore apart a U.S. team that couldn’t handle their speed, creativity and aggressiveness. Where the United States had bullied some previous opponents, it was Mexico which ran the United States into the ground and turned a two-goal deficit into a two goal romp in front of a largely pro-Mexico crowd of 93,420 at the Rose Bowl.

“They did well to battle back,” said U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard. “I thought we knocked the stuffing out of them at 2-0. We really hit them where it hurt, but take your hat off to them. They’re a good bunch of players.”

“It’s beyond me how they rallied back from that,” Howard said. “We didn’t. We hit them, they counterpunched, and I think they staggered us with that counterpunch.”

The U.S. team will carry its share of the blame for losing a game it looked capable of winning early on. As much as head coach Bob Bradley named a perfect starting lineup, and sent his team out with the perfect approach to beat Mexico, his good early work was quickly undone by the decision to replace the injured Cherundolo with the incapable Jonathan Bornstein.

Now it should be noted that the U.S. team’s defensive options on the bench weren’t ideal. If Bradley would have turned to Jonathan Spector, it would have meant a slow fullback for Guardado and Dos Santos to go after. If he would have turned to Tim Ream, and moved Carlos Bocanegra to left back, Ream would have had to deal with the likes of ‘Chicharito’ and Dos Santos.

PATH TO GLORY: MEXICO

 
Mexico has taken the opposite approach to the United States, starting strong and giving the least impressive performances as they've approached the Gold Cup final. The results, however, have been the same. Mexico has gone their part to give us this highly anticipated Gold Cup final.
DATE OPPONENT RESULT
June 5 (Group A) El Salvador 5-0, MEX
June 9 (Group A) Cuba 5-0, MEX
June 12 (Group A) Costa Rica 4-1, MEX
June 18 (Quarters) Guatemala 2-1, MEX
June 22 (Semis) Honduras 2-0 (aet), MEX
 

In other words, Bradley didn’t have great options, but after Bornstein had been shredded, and the 2-0 lead evaporated in the Pasadena night, Bradley could have corrected his mistake at halftime. He could have even pulled Bornstein after another blown assignment gave Mexico a 3-2 lead, but rather than go for broke and replace Bornstein with attacker, Bradley left his defensive weak link on the field for Mexico to keep going after.

Bradley and Bornstein weren’t alone in shouldering blame for Mexico’s four-goal turnaround. Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley were expected to help boss the center of the field, but both were left chasing, and Jones was especially hopeless as he faded and looked little like the player who was so dominant in the previous two rounds.

Even the U.S. team’s stars faded into the background after initially playing key roles in the wonderful 2-0 start. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan combined beautiful on the U.S. team’s second goal, but neither could make an impact as they watched their Mexican counterparts steal the show, even though Mexico was forced to play the entire second half without two starting defenders.

There really weren’t many bright spots to speak of for the United States on Saturday, save for the performance of Freddy Adu, who followed up his super-sub effort in the win against Panama with an influential effort as a surprise starter. He troubled Mexico’s defense with his ability to keep the ball and spray sharp passes, and he had a hand in both of the U.S. team’s goals.

Unfortunately, one good individual performance wasn’t going to be enough against a Mexico team that had a plethora of them. Giovani Dos Santos delivered his latest masterful effort against the United States, running circles around the U.S. midfield and back-line. Andres Guardado abused Eric Lichaj at times, but was only kept from doing even more damage because Mexico identified Bornstein as the weak link pretty quickly and sent Barrera in for the kill. He responded with the equalizer and eventual game-winning goal.

“They’re as dynamic as any Mexican team as I’ve ever played against,” Donovan said. “They’ve just got a few guys that can change the game in a heartbeat. Between Guardado and Barrera and Giovani and Chicharito, they can make special plays. They’re explosive, and if you give them a lot of space they’re going to make plays.”

Mexico’s Golden Generation came of age on Saturday night, on a night when it was going to take a near-perfect U.S. performance to stop the coronation. The Americans will have to accept the fact they weren’t good enough on Saturday, and will need to be MUCH better if they’re going to beat this loaded Mexico team any time soon.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.

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