A night that began full of promise for the United States men’s national soccer team ended with frustration and festering doubts about the future following Saturday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup final loss to Mexico in Pasadena.
A stunningly quick 2-0 lead eroded in a 19 minutes as a depleted American back line was victimized time and time again by the speed of Mexico’s attack. Giovani dos Santos’ brilliant left-footed chip shot just over the head of American defender Eric Lichaj in the 76th minute capped a brilliant second half for El Tri who captured a convincing 4-2 victory for their second straight Gold Cup championship, much to the delight of an overwhelmingly partisan crowd of 93,420 in the Rose Bowl.
It was a troubling end to an up and down tournament for the Americans — one that has already reignited the fire under head coach Bob Bradley. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati was hardly eager to come to the coach’s defense following the second-half collapse, refusing to comment after the game, claiming he needed to rush to catch a red-eye flight back to New York.
Buoyed by an inspiring run to the knock-out round at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Bradley was retained. But after losing out on an opportunity to compete in the 2013 Confederations Cup and ceding North American supremacy to the United States’ biggest rivals, Bradley’s tenure could be up. Former German national team coach Juergen Klinsmann has been rumored as a possible replacement following the U.S. loss to Ghana at the World Cup, and his name will continue to surface as Gulati considers his options moving forward toward 2014 World Cup qualifying, which begins next year.
An early injury to 32-year-old left back Steve Cherundolo forced Bradley to bring on a 10th minute sub. He chose Jonathan Bornstein and Mexico shredded that side of the American defense for the rest of the night as Bornstein was constantly hung out to dry by his midfield and simply could not keep pace with Mexico’s fleet-footed attackers.
But on a night when the Americans came out of the gates with a rare burst of offense, a more troubling sign was their inability to protect a two-goal lead. It was an eerily similar outcome to the 2009 Confederations Cup final in which the U.S. jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Brazil just 27 minutes in only to watch the five-time World Cup champions claw back for a seemingly inevitable 3-2 victory.
While no one on the American sideline was ready to throw their boss under the bus for the team’s inabilty to counter Mexico’s superior talent with tactical changes, it’s going to take more than the backing of goalkeeper Tim Howard and company to keep Bradley on board going forward.
“Bob shouldn’t be held responsible for tonight’s loss,” said Howard. “The players are the ones who are out on the field.”
Compare that to the blatant lack of support voiced by the face of the team, and Bradley can expect a rocky road in the coming months.
When asked about his coach’s job security after the match, Donovan responded flatly: “It’s not my concern.”
One of the lone bright spots of the final for the U.S. was the play of former boy wonder Freddy Adu, a surprise starter Saturday night who was far and away the best player on the field for the boys in white. Adu, who began his MLS career with D.C. United in 2003 at the tender age of 14, never found a foothold on the national team and has struggled to earn playing time overseas. But after connecting with Donovan on a precise through-ball that produced the team’s lone goal in a 1-0 semifinal win against Panama, Adu was involved in both of the U.S. tallies Saturday.