In rain soaked conditions in Chicago, at Soldier Field. The CONCACAF Gold Cup would take place on time, but with a very wet field, as evidenced by all the sliding during the early part of the U.S. v Honduras match. This would prove to be a good night for U.S. soccer and one of disappointment for two other sides. I was looking forward to two good matches and was not disappointed for different reasons in each match.
In a match in where I had picked the opposing side, the USMNT put forth a strong performance, defeating Honduras 2-0 to advance to the Gold Cup Final. The Semi-final match would be seeing the USMNT facing this Honduras side for the 3rd time in as many months, and one would think with a depleted roster it would have been a tougher match for the USMNT. I was happy to get my prediction wrong in this match though, and even happier to see Kenny Cooper score to put the game out of reach for the Hondurans.
The USMNT started with Troy Perkins in goal again, a good decision as he had yet another strong performance, most likely booking his place to South Africa next summer. The backline was much the same as the Quarterfinal match versus Panama, minus Jimmy Conrad who was replaced with Clarence Goodson, in a backline that was filled with Jay Heaps, Chad Marshall, and Heath Pearce. Strong performances all around for the defense in this one, as Honduras never looked to be too dangerous in the course of the match. The midfield would hold the same shape as the last match, with Robbie Rogers and Stuart Holden on the wings and Bob Bradley’s usual two holding midfielders in Kyle Beckerman and Logan Pause. Good play from the midfielders helped solidify this win and gives U.S. fans good hope for a win in the final. For the second match in a row Brian Ching would start the match paired with Davy Arnaud up top. Both players had their moments, but both also disappeared for times in the match as well.
Due to weather the teams came out late, but the match still started on time. The Americans came out in a flash and looked dangerous from the start, putting balls into the box and frustrating the Hondurans defense. Not being able to find the finish they needed though, the quick start eventually faded and we spent the majority of the rest of the half with much of the possession, but no danger from either direction. After many chances from corners, Stuart Holden finally drove a ball into the box in the closing minutes of the half that found the head of a rising Clarence Goodson, who would head the ball with an efficiency and beat the Honduran keeper. This would give the USMNT a rise going into the half, boosting their confidence and destroying that of the Honduras side.
The second half started out much the same with the USMNT pressing forward, but not being able to find the back of the net to put the Honduras side away. Much of the half was controlled by the U.S., and Honduras never looked to equalize, as Walter Martinez, Chavez, and Carlos Costly had disappeared from the match. The first two, who were Honduras’ best chance of getting in on goal, were replaced after this inactivity with Costly left on the field, still not a factor. The U.S. would only use 2 of their subs in this match, bringing in Santino Quaranta for Robbie Rogers in the 76th, and Kenny Cooper in for Davy Arnaud in the 85th. Why Bob waited so late to make any changes is a question none of us will be able to answer, but less than 5 minutes after entering the match, Cooper would pick a ball up at midfield that would lead to a series of crisp passes and find Cooper back at the back post to seal the win with a tap in goal in the 89th.
Man of the Match: USSoccer via Twitter reported it as Goodson, and while I agree he had a great match for the side scoring the GWG, I think Perkins deserves man of the match for many of the saves he made in the course of this Semi-final match. Blanking the Hondurans in the process.
Now we will look forward to the final in NYC. Does the U.S. have a chance? Yes, I think so. This B, C, or D squad has proved their case for being here and only seems to be improving with each match together. I will be watching the USMNT this weekend, and this weekend I think I will take the advice of a friend of mine and be a homer by picking the USMNT instead of their opponent. While I am frustrated to get this prediction wrong, I was happy with the result and excited to see the players coming together before the Final. This looks to be a good final with the two teams involved.
Costa Rica and Mexico had a high flying Quarterfinals, scoring 9 goals between them and only allowing one. This looked to be an exciting matchup from the start, one in which many expected to see more than a few goals scored. I had picked Mexico for this game as they seemed to be the stronger squad, and I guess I was secretly praying for a U.S. v Mexico Final. I got my wish, but it took some time to get there.
Coming out of the gates, both teams were flying, playing end to end and putting all sorts of balls close to their opponent’s goals. It would take ages for the first goal to come, with Mexico having the first real chance in the 57th, only to be disappointed as Miguel Sabah sent his penalty directly to the Costa Rica keeper. Many chances from play would follow, but in the 88th, Mexico would finally find the finishing touch through sub Guillermo Franco, putting the Mexicans up with only minutes to go. This would not last long though as the Costa Ricans would strike back quickly when Froylan Ledezma bested the Mexican keeper to equalize, sending the match into extra time.
Extra time was full of more chances that went unfinished by both sides. This lack of finishing power by the two sides who had previously netted a combined 9 times, would lead us to our first penalty shootout of the tournament. Ochoa was key in this shootout, stopping the shot of one Costa Rican penalty taker early to give the Mexicans some breathing room. The Mexicans would not disappoint their fans again as they all stepped up and put their chance past the keeper, resulting in a Mexican win that will pit them against the USMNT in the Final.
The lack of finishing in this match made it difficult to watch, but the pace and ball movement was quick and precise throughout. The Final should be interesting as the two teams involved have a strong rivalry in CONCACAF, one in which the USMNT has dominated on U.S. soil of late. The Mexican squad has looked strong in this tournament, but as a USMNT supporter I hope that finishing touch stays away from the Mexicans long enough for us to beat them again in the Final.
Man of the Match: no question in this on, Ochoa takes man of the match for his strong play and goal stopping ability during the PK Shootout, putting the Mexicans through to the final.