DAVID SMITH - Friday, June 24, 2011
The United States and Mexico will meet in the final of the Gold Cup for a third straight time on Saturday, when these teams clash in front of a packed house in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
Both archrivals narrowly passed their semifinal tests during the week to reach Saturday's final, and look to be on somewhat even footing despite vastly different starts to the tournament.
Mexico flew through the group stage, racking up a gaudy total of 13 goals in three wins, but have been decidedly less dominant in two rather narrow knockout wins over Guatemala and Honduras.
Conversely, Bob Bradley's squad were near disastrous by their own standards in the opening round, losing their second group game to Panama - their first ever group-stage loss in the Gold Cup - and barely squeezing by Guadeloupe, but were able to knock off Jamaica with little problem in the quarterfinal, and subsequently exacted revenge against the Panamanians with a 1-0 semifinal victory.
Even though Mexico can still be considered favorites heading into the game, it in spite of having avoided the pitfalls of a good bit of controversy around the team in recent weeks.
They had five players suspended due to testing positive for a banned substance, however as they were cleared in a more recent test, five replacements were allowed to come in to take their place.
Additionally, several group-stage games in the tournament, including Mexico's 5-0 win over El Salvador, have shown up on FIFA's radar and could end up being probed for irregularities, although no suggestion of impropriety on Mexico's part has been suggested.
Nevertheless, they boast the two leading scorers in the competition in Javier Hernandez and Aldo de Nigris, both of whom will be sure to give the Americans' defense a stern test over the course of the game.
This will be the first time the US has faced the newest Mexican superstar Hernandez, and the back line of Eric Lichaj, Clarence Goodson and long-time veterans Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra will be looking to give him a memorable first impression of the rivalry.
For the US, their only absence for the game is a critical one, as starting striker Jozy Altidore is out for 4-6 weeks with a hamstring pull suffered early in the quarterfinal game against Jamaica.
18 year-old Juan Agudelo deputized in the starting lineup against Panama, and could be called upon again on Saturday should Bradley not choose to change things up for the game.
After being banished to the bench to begin both knockout games, Landon Donovan should be back on the field from the get-go with the hopes of adding another heroic performance against Mexico to his resume.
Defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones will be getting his first-ever taste of North America's biggest rivalry, and his physical presence in the middle along with his constantly improving play throughout the tournament will be vital to the US hopes of knocking off the reigning Gold Cup champions and avenging the 5-0 embarrassment which occurred at this same stage two years ago.
Both teams are fortunate to have no players suspended for the game, and additionally, the Mexicans have a fully fit squad.
For the winner of the game, the additional prize of a trip to Brazil in the summer of 2013 to represent CONCACAF in the Confederations Cup also awaits.
The game will kick off at 6pm local time in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.