Saturday night, in the final of the 2011 Gold Cup, the United States came out and played an ambitious style. They put their best technical players on the pitch, threw caution to the wind for the most part, and tried to beat Mexico at their own game. For 22 minutes, it worked. Then Mexico came out of their fuzzy state of disbelief, started playing football, and scored four goals in a row. Despite a valiant effort on the part of the USMNT, El Tri were just too much tonight, and they are the Gold Cup champions after winning by a final score of 4-2.
Mexico started extremely strong in the opening minutes of the game, but could not find a goal. In the 9th minute, it appeared as if they would live to regret their misses, as the United States got on the board with a goal against the run of play. Steve Cherundolo and Freddy Adu combined down the right flank to create a corner kick, which Adu took for the U.S.. He hit a ball to the near post which Michael Bradley ran onto and headed into the back of the net, and just like that the United States had a shock lead.
Unfortunately for them, Cherundolo sustained an injury either creating that corner or shortly before, and he was forced out of the game with an injury. Jonathan Bornstein came into the match, forcing Eric Lichaj to right back, and that changed the game considerably.
Still, despite that setback, the U.S. was able to find a fantastic second goal through Landon Donovan. The USMNT's all-time leading goal scorer started the game as a lone striker, but when he struggled to find the ball, he was swapped with Dempsey. That move paid off instantly for Bob Bradley, as Freddy Adu, Dempsey and Donovan combined for an impressive goal, created by Donovan's off the ball run from behind Dempsey.
That 2-0 lead didn't hold long, though, as Mexico would find a goal against the run of play in the 28th minute. The injury to Cherundolo proved costly as Bornstein was caught out of position on a counter-attack, allowing Pablo Barrera to get inside him and run onto a through ball, then score past Tim Howard.
Before halftime, Mexico would find an equalizer through Andres Guardado, who was an injury doubt before the start of the match. His 35th minute goal was the second in seven minutes for El Tri, and just like that, the USMNT's lead was erased. The two teams would go into halftime tied 0-0, but Mexico had the obvious momentum.
However, for all of Mexico's momentum, they still had setbacks. Two members of their starting back line, Carlos Salcido and Rafael Marquez, picked up knocks in the first half and had to be substituted out, robbing 'Chepo' Jose Manuel de la Torre of two tactical subs. Salcido was replaced by Jose Torres Nilo, who has plenty of experience, but Marquez was replaced by a debutant, Hector Reynoso of Chivas de Guadalajara.
Those injuries did not affect Mexico much at all in the second half, and Mexico claimed the lead that most knew was coming eventually in the 49th minute. Pablo Barrera showed off his speed again, powering through a disorganized United States backline to give himself space to shoot, then curling a fantastic finish around Howard to put Mexico ahead for good.
Clint Dempsey almost brought the United States back into the game when he hit the crossbar with a brilliant shot in the 59th minute, but that would be the closest the United States came to getting back into the match. In the 76th minute, Giovani dos Santos capped off what was arguably a man of the match performance with what was easily the most brilliant goal of the six scored in the game, as he hit an absolutely audacious chip into the upper 90 at the far post from 15 yards away. That goal was the dagger, and Mexico took the trophy with a 4-2 win.
The United States will walk away from this match disappointed, just like they would after any loss, but despite giving up four unanswered goals, they shouldn't walk away ashamed. They took the game to Mexico early and attempted to beat them with an attacking style instead of playing in a defensive shell, and for that they should be commended. El Tri just had too much quality on the night, and their win was well deserved.
For more on how the two teams got to this point, check out our USA vs. Panama stream and our Mexico vs. Honduras stream. For more updates leading up to USA vs. Mexico, bookmark this StoryStream. For all of our previous Gold Cup coverage, check out the Gold Cup 2011 section. For more on Mexican football, including the Mexican national team, the Mexico vs. USA game, and the Mexican Primera, check out SB Nation's Mexican football blog FMF State Of Mind.