What do you win if you win the Gold Cup? Well, you get this cool gold cup, which looks kind of like the Decepticons logo or a waffle cone being struck by lightning. It’s a bit of a Rorschach test. You also qualify for the Confederations Cup … sort of. To get into the Confederations Cup you have to win two Gold Cups, or one Gold Cup and one playoff game, or one World Cup, or do whatever Italy did to get invited, or grease a few palms in FIFA, or float your country to Oceania and beat Papua New Guinea. But perhaps best of all, you get bragging rights, the ability to say, “We have the best B-team in the region!”
All sarcasm aside (just for a second): I really want the U.S. national team to win this tournament. It’s the best team in the region, so it should have the title. Also, I love the Mini World Cup (Confederations Cup), and I want to go to there. There should be mini versions of other great things. I would love Mini Thanksgiving — just a really good turkey sandwich and a Detroit Lions game in mid-October.
Coach Juergen Klinsmann’s lineup for the final against Panama: Rimando | Beasley, Besler, Goodson, Parkhurst | Corona, Beckerman, Holden, Bedoya | Donovan, Johnson. Klinsmann is banned from the sidelines, having been put in timeout for throwing a ball during the last match (had he kicked it I think it would have been okay, but this is soccer: no hands). What a punishment: he has to watch from an air-conditioned luxury box filled with unlimited shrimp.
Here’s kickoff from Soldier Field, which boasts state-of-the-art features such as an actual grass field that is suitable for soccer.
1’ - Many of the tickets for this match were bought by Mexican national team fans. Some of those fans spent good money to watch their least favorite team. That’s risky; I wouldn’t buy Radiohead tickets if there was a chance it might be Nickelback.
15’ - The United States has the ball, and Panama has a strategy that obviously does not include having the ball. It’s possible that Panama’s first shot on goal will be the first kick of a penalty shootout.
20’ - Uh oh – Holden is down, the trainers are working on his legs. This could be serious. I’m not a body-language expert, but staring straight up at the sky, arms out to the side in the crucifix position is probably bad, right?
23’ - Can Mix Diskerud please get dressed and in the game? It’s taking forever. My wife gets dressed for weddings in less time.
25’ - The ref is giving the Panamanian coach a talking-to. Maybe he wants to go hang in Klinsmann’s box with the leather chairs and the salmon puffs.
30’ - Corona bangs heads with a Panamanian player – shouldn’t he be checked for concussion symptoms? Or does that rule get suspended during a final?
36’ - I’m not sure I’ve seen a Panamanian player standing in the American penalty box yet. The minute they get in there, they hit the grass like Willie Nelson.
42’ - You have to give Panama credit: It’s frustrating the Americans with good defense. It’s frustrating Fox by making the match boring. It’s frustrating Mexico’s fans just by being there. It’s just a frustrating team right now.
Halftime: 0-0. Word from the locker room: Holden has a sprained knee. Credit to sideline reporter Grant Wahl for actually waiting for there to be news before breaking into the broadcast. I hope he doesn’t want to work for CNN, because he seems to be bad at the “the latest news is that there is no news” game.
47’ - This dynamic in this match is pretty simple: can the United States score a goal? If it does, the match is pretty much over. Panama’s attack looks about as threatening as D.C. United’s, which is the most savage burn I can think of.
48’ - Speaking of D.C. United and not scoring: Marcos Sanchez is playing for Panama. That’s just how heavy of a favorite the Americans are in this match: Their opponent is using a player not good enough to play for D.C. United.
51’ - Donovan’s cross is knocked down with a hand, but there’s no call! Klinsmann just spit-taked his Korbel up in the suite.
55’ - I think if we had all three subs, a change would have been made by now (I would put Torres in for Bedoya). Now that Mexico is imploding, the Americans’ greatest nemesis is Stuart Holden’s right knee.
61’ - If you’re a fan of defensive soccer, you like what Panama is doing right now. Unfortunately, no one is a fan of defensive soccer.
68’ – GOAL USA! There’s the breakthrough. It’s kind of Bedoya, kind of Donovan, but technically Shea who finishes the move! I think that might be the Americans’ first shot on goal, but when you have the ball that much, something good will probably happen eventually.
69’ - Now the game will change. Panama’s strategy of staying compact and being physical — I’ll call it “clog and flog” — won’t work anymore.
70’ - Beasley hits a shot 20 yards over the bar. In this age of partisanship, could congress maybe agree on legislation making it illegal for Damarcus Beasley to shoot from outside the box? Watching Beasley wind up to shoot is like watching a ventriloquist get his dummy out of his case; I just know I’m not going to like what comes next.
83’ - Johnson can’t finish the match by tapping in Shea’s cross! I wasn’t giving Shea much credit for his earlier tap-in, but I guess we just saw that tap-ins can be missed.
86’ - The U.S. men have dominated this match, but that makes the ending that much more tense. They deserve to win, but Panama are still within reach of a smash-and-grab victory.
90’ - Omar Gonzalez has come in and is immediately winning all the long balls Panama is hoofing forward. Good sub by Klinsmann — good job of checking his phone by Martin Vasquez, nominal U.S. coach for this match.
Full time – 1-0 USA! We were the best team in the match, we were the best team in the tournament and now we’re the regional champions. The players will fill the Gold Cup with champagne tonight, or — as it seems to be begging for — a giant scoop of sherbet.
Player ratings, first for the game, then for the tournament:
Rimando: 6.5 (9). Bad news for Hamid and Johnson — the third spot seems to be spoken for. Why are we always so stocked at the position where you can only play one guy at a time?
Beasley: 4.5 (6). You have to like Beasley, partly because of his hustle and partly because of the way he absorbs more abuse than a lawyer’s conscience.
Besler: 6.5 (7). The more I see of Besler, the more I like him. He’s sound, sort of an Eddie Pope type.
Goodson: 7 (6.5). If you’re going to use Besler, it’s best to have some huge redwood of a guy playing next to him. So, Goodson, Gonzalez, Onyewu … we have options for the role of Huge Redwood.
Parkhurst: 6 (6.5). Did you notice Parkhurst at any point during the tournament? No? Me either. That’s a good tournament for a fullback.
Corona: 6 (7). He played his way into consideration for the first team. I mean the real first team.
Beckerman: 6.5 (6.5). He does a lot of dirty work, or in his case, damn dirty hippie work.
Holden: 4 (7). This tournament showed that Holden can still be an important part of the World Cup team. But his knee reminded us why he might not be.
Bedoya: 5 (6). Another player whose stock rose during this tournament. Hopefully he can rush back to Sweden and get a few games in before the heavy snows start falling in August.
Donovan: 6.5 (9). Won the golden ball, tied for the golden boot. Nice rehab assignment, Landon; we’ll see you with the A-team next month.
Johnson: 5.5 (6). Ended the tournament as the clear first-choice number nine and the clear winner of the Djibril Cisse look-alike contest.
Diskerud: 7 (7). I think of him as a finesse player, but he’ll also make a tackle when he needs to.
Shea: 5.5 (5.5). Easily the most mercurial U.S. player of the tournament. If Josh Gatt had stayed healthy, Shea would have stayed home. Instead, he scored the winning goal in the final.
Gonzalez: no rating. He can win headers. We already knew that.