By Jon Levy
USA – Mexico: TYAC Previews The Gold Cup Final – Part 1 of 2
The North American neighbors took drastically different paths to Pasadena, but CONCACAF doesn’t count style points. The US struggled in group play before finding form in the quarterfinal and gutting out a quality win in the semi over a Panama squad that had beaten the Yanks a week and a half earlier. Meanwhile, Mexico scored roughly 100 goals in the course of steamrolling their group, but had to dig deep to narrowly defeat both of their knockout round opponents.
What we’re left with is the matchup that everyone expected to see before the 2011 Gold Cup kicked off. Luckily, we here at The Yanks Are Coming channeled our inner Boy Scouts (a rarity I assure you) and took a break from pounding bourbon and PBR to research and write a four piece series analyzing the Mexican and American rosters for the tournament. If you didn’t read these pre-tourney, take a few minutes and get the prereq’s outta the way.
Tournament in Review: Even armed with those preview pieces, as you know, the Gold Cup, though relatively short in length, has been a bit of a saga for both teams. Here’s an abbreviated look at who’s gone, who’s still playing, and who’s risen to prominence or fallen out of favor. We’ll tackle El Tri first:
Ricardo Osorio – Prior to the chicken crap really hitting the fan as far as Mexico’s roster was concerned, veteran right back left the squad for fear of a urinary tract or prostate problem. He’s only 31, but that type of disease apparently runs in his family, so we at TYAC applaud the man for taking his leave and erring on the side of his long term health. Since the warm-up match in Denver against New Zealand, natural right sided midfielder Efraín Juárez has been deputizing at right back, and deputizing well. This is nothing new for Juarez, who played that spot throughout Mexico’s 2009 Gold Cup triumphant campaign.
Tainted Chicken-Gate – Clenbuterol is a supplement used to help ease breathing disorders like asthma. It also has the effect of aiding to one’s aerobic activity, and as such it is a banned substance that’s sometimes abused in cardio-heavy sports like cycling… and soccer? If you believe Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez, Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa, Christian “El Hobbit” Bermúdez, Antonio “Sinha” Naelson, and the far less important Édgar “No Nickname” Dueñas, clenbuterol can also be ingested in tainted chicken. These guys tested positive for the supplement, were kicked off the squad in a measure of Mexican self-enforcement, then tested negative, but were not allowed to return for this tourney. They have since been replaced by non-factors from Mexico’s Primera División. I won’t waste your time naming or listing them; I don’t expect that the Mexican version of this blog is including Robbie Rogers in its match preview either.
The upshot of these omissions is that Alfredo Talavera, Mexico’s third choice keeper two months ago, is now manning the net for El Tri. Starting goalkeeper Memo Ochoa’s international career has now taken more stutter steps than Barry Sanders on a five yard gain, and fans of the green, white, and red (and bird, and cactus, and snake, and stuff) should rightly be wondering if he’ll ever put it all together for the national team. Maza Rodriguez was the only other surefire starter chicken dancing his way out the door, but his absence has led to Mexico legend Rafa Marquez and upstart Héctor Moreno forming such an effective partnership that they’ve only allowed two goals all tournament. The pairing’s success saw Moreno secure a transfer from Dutch side AZ Alkmaar to Spanish club Espanyol earlier this week, so good for him, but Maza’s absence still robs El Tri of any flexibility in Marquez’s deployment.
Down Goes Guardado? – Winger Andrés Guardado was substituted in the 52nd minute of Mexico’s semifinal match against a Honduras squad that was playing exceedingly physical futbol. Word is he’s got an ankle sprain and is questionable for the final (though he’s been cleared to play) in Pasadena. This is very important! El Tri’s second division duo of Guardado and West Ham winger Pablo Barrera may have both played for teams that suffered relegation from La Liga and the English Premiership respectively this past season, but in this tournament, they’ve performed with a vengeance. Specifically, Guardado’s sublime skill, golazo-of-the-Gold-Cup technique and fantastic foot speed have commanded defenders and helped unlock defenses all tourney long. I know what the Pat Benetar song says about giving her your best shot, but 1980’s pop rock aside, USMNT fans need to hope Guardado, who will certainly try to play after being cleared medically, can’t give it a go and decides to stay off that ankle for another week. One more thing to consider; the clenbuteroly enhanced Hobbit Bermúdez would have been a nice playmaking replacementfor an ailing Andrés, but you know how it goes, #taintedchicken.
On To The Yanks:
“There Can Be Only One!” – Center forward that is. Having initially selected only three according to Hoyle strikers for this squad, Coach Bob Bradley is down to just Juan Agudelo. Jozy Altidore was actually having a pretty good tournament before straining his hammy in the early stages of the quarterfinal against Jamaica. And Chris Wondowloski’s inability to have any positive effect on the Gold Cup matches has both lost him Bobbo’s favor and completely invalidated the nod to his MLS form over Herculez Gomez’s form in Mexico. It’d be nice to have Herc on the bench right about now. Sadly, I think Wondo’s just there to push the other possible substitutes in their warm-up runs. Oh well… yeeuh… aaha… you know Juan it is! AgudeloAgudeloAgudeloAgudelo…
Next Gold Cup maybe The Yanks will go all the way and include zero center forwards on the roster, eliminating the position like many pass-first NFL teams have done with the fullback.
New Contributors – Necessity and a new formation have allowed a host of national team fringe players to become important members of this team. Sacha Kljestan has reemerged as a big part of the national team, and Ale-Alejandro Bedoya is playing “hot like Mexico,” that is to say he’s been a game changer on the wing. I think that’s what Gaga meant.
Even more impressive than those two has been Eric Lichaj, who, after three matches looks to have the American left back spot all but locked up for the next ten years. Somebody needs to get the American Outlaws a list of word that rhyme with “lee-high” so we can get this kid a song as soon as possible. And lastly, Freddy Adu even played an important role as an impact sub in the semifinal, but I won’t write too much about him, lest we really tempt fate. Let’s just say USMNT fans are still monitoring his situation.
Landon “Drama”van – After an impressive return to form in the first match of the tournament, one in which he ran his flank with Stevie Cherundolo and provided a wonderful assist, Lando was basically MIA for the next two matches. Cue the face of American soccer being benched for both knockout stage matches, and coming on as a second half sub in both. Of course he would then register the most precise and ridonkulous (technical term) assist of the Gold Cup to create the only goal scored in the semifinal and punch the team’s ticket to the west coast for a date with Mexico. Something may be ailing Donovan, but don’t expect him to start a third consecutive game on the bench, not with Mexico looming. That’d be like benching Joe Montana against the Cincinnati Bengals, or not starting Clint Dempsey when Robert Green’s in goal.
Check back for part two of my USA/Mexico preview, which includes what to expect from each team, who the players to watch on each side will be, a scoreline prediction, more pop culture references, and more National Football League analogies!
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com and you should follow him on “The Twitter”, as eighty year old Marlins manager Jack McKeon puts it, at @TYAC_Jon.