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Resilient Americans prevail in a Superclasico
by Ridge Mahoney, June 25th, 2007 7AM

TAGS:  gold cup


Add a comeback 2-1 win against its archrival and another Gold Cup title to the USA ledger. Add a squandered 1-0 halftime lead to Mexico's record of futility north of the border. Add another feather to the headdress of Bob Bradley, whose unbeaten record as U.S. head coach is 10-0-1 heading into the Copa America. Add Benny Feilhaber's searing winner to the list of best U.S. goals, and the landmark occasion of Landon Donovan tying Eric Wynalda atop the all-time goalscoring list at 34.

And add perhaps the most riveting edition in the history of this rivalry, a showcase of emotion and spectacle and raw drama that capped a competition that makes up in spectacle what it sometimes otherwise lacks.

Mexico, lethargic for most of the tournament, severely tested the Americans. Defender Rafa Marquez made his first Gold Cup appearance and narrowly missed goals on several headers. Nery Castillo ran the Americans ragged on the dribble. Keeper Oswaldo Sanchez stoned the U.S. with a spectacular double save. Jose Guardado ruled the left flank for much of the match and stabbed a shot high into the net shortly before halftime.

But somehow the U.S. prevailed, despite DaMarcus Beasley hitting the crossbar on a stone-cold sitter from six yards out, despite the suspensions of Frankie Hejduk and Michael Bradley, and despite numbing fatigue that forced the halftime substitution of stalwart midfielder Pablo Mastroeni and a serious aerial collision from which Jonathan Spector departed on a stretcher.

Fueled by Castillo's turbocharged runs with the ball, Mexico held sway for most of the first half. Central defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu scrambled to repel high balls directed to Jared Borgetti while tracking the raiding runs of Castillo, Rafael Medina and Jaime Lozano that outside backs Spector and Jonathan Bornstein couldn't defuse.

Howard tipped over a looping Marquez header on a corner kick and watched anxiously as a low bullet from Castillo skipped just wide. American chances were few, but Mexico needed Sanchez to thwart Beasley from point-blank range after he'd controlled a cross from Donovan and Bornstein zipped forward to rip a shot into the side-netting.

The removal of Borgetti after he'd landed clumsily contesting a high ball actually accelerated the Mexican attack, which often ran aground in the wake of Castillo's mesmerizing dribbles and Guardado's bold runs up the left flank. With Omar Bravo cutting diagonally to unbalance the American defense, Mexico caught the U.S. disorganized to score the first goal.

Bornstein had pushed up the left flank and couldn't recover when the U.S. lost possession. Bocanegra was caught square with Onyewu, who had to chase Castillo and couldn't stop his low ball across the goalmouth that Guardado slammed high into the net in the 41st minute.

Mastroeni's energy had dissipated since his remarkable game against Panama in the quarterfinals. He labored to shut down Castillo and Lozano before Bradley replaced him with Ricardo Clark at halftime.

Clark injected movement and pace, which opened up the central midfield and forced the Mexican back line to spread out as the U.S. also found more room on the flanks. Isolated 1-v-1 against Jose Magallon, Ching received an entry pass from Spector, who'd pushed up the right side. When Magallon banged him as he turned, Ching hit the ground and Guatemalan referee Carlos Batres blew his whistle. It wasn't a clear penalty, it could have gone either way.

In the Gold Cup, Donovan had already converted three penalties --one on a re-kick after the initial attempt had been saved -- shooting pretty much down the middle. Sanchez anticipated a similar shot and when he refused to budge, Donovan adjusted and blasted a rising shot to the keeper's left.

Chance followed chance in a pell-mell spell of spills and thrills. Carlos Salcido came up a step short of tipping in a flicked free kick, Bocanegra denied Castillo with a classic saving tackle. Spector and Guardado collided in a full-blooded challenge and the American came off to be replaced by Frank Simek. Guardado would finish the game but collapsed after the final whistle. He, too, left the field of battle on a stretcher, his neck in a brace.

Then Feilhaber's moment arrived. He'd headed his first USA goal June 2 against China on a set play; this time he hovered outside the penalty area as Donovan's corner kick came into the goalmouth. He met the headed clearance with a full volley of such power and swerve Sanchez barely saw it.

Minutes later Feilhaber lunged to block a Mexican shot off a corner kick, and in the 89th minute the spotlight turned to Howard. A cross pinged off several players in the goalmouth right to substitute Adolfo Bautista, who drilled a shot Howard elastically touched over the crossbar.

Off the ensuing corner Donovan broke up the right side with only one defender back and Beasley flying up the middle. Donovan drew the opponents and laid a ball Beasley only had to touch into the net but somehow he got under it enough to hit the bar. Incredible.

The U.S. rode out the final frenzied minutes. At the final whistle, Mexican coach Hugo Sanchez and a few of his players surrounded Batres and his assistants to badger them as the Americans embraced.

Beasley, overcome with exhaustion and elation, lay flat on his back for a minute before tightly hugging the teammate who helped him to his feet. Donovan, shirtless, jumped over the signboards behind one of the goals to exhort Sam's Army. Confetti fluttered through the air upon presentation of the trophy the host team had retained.

GAME SUMMARY (Gold Cup, final)
June 24 in Chicago

USA 2 Mexico 1.

Goals: Donovan (pen) 62, Feilhaber 73; Guardado (Castillo) 44.

USA - Howard, Spector (Simek, 72), Onyewu, Bocanegra, Bornstein, Dempsey (Twellman, 69), Feilhaber, Mastroeni (Clark, 46), Beasley; Ching, Donovan.
Mexico - Sanchez, Magallon, Salcido, Marquez, Osorio, Medina (Blanco, 78), Pardo, Borgetti (Bravo, 40), Lozano (Bautista, 81), Guardado, Castillo

Stats: USA-MEX
Shots: 13-16
Saves: 5-7
Corner Kicks: 2-10
Fouls: 21-9
Offside: 0-6

Yellow cards: USA -Bocanegra 9, Mastroeni 33, Ching 76, Beasley 85, Simek 86. Mexico - Medina 18, Magallon 60.

Referee: Carlos Batres (GUA). 1st Asst.: Leonel Leal (CRC), 2nd Asst.: William Torres (SLV), Fourth Official: Walter Quesada (CRC).

Attendance: 60,000

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