In Gold Cup Final, Feilhaber Has The Midas Touch for United States

Landon Donovan
Landon Donovan celebrates after the United States' 2-1 win over Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean. (Jonathan Daniel - Getty)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 25, 2007

CHICAGO, June 24 -- On any day in any setting against any opponent, U.S. national team midfielder Benny Feilhaber's goal would have been hailed for its brilliance -- a volley from 22 yards that blazed into the left side of the net in a blink of an eye. "Maybe it's one-in-a-thousand that you score that goal," teammate Landon Donovan calculated.

But when you consider the opponent (Mexico) and the environment (a sellout crowd of mostly Mexican fans at Soldier Field), the stakes (a regional championship known as Gold Cup) and the reward (a berth in a global event), Feilhaber's hefty swing of his right foot that produced a 2-1 victory will perhaps take on mythical status in this ever intensifying rivalry.

U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra called it "a special goal for a special game."

The 73rd-minute strike by Feilhaber, one of several young players thrust into prime roles by new coach Bob Bradley in recent months, accomplished so many things: It capped a two-goal uprising in the second half and gave the Americans their first comeback victory over Mexico in the 73-year series. It improved the Americans' record to 8-0-1 in their last nine home matches with once-dominant Mexico and helped the U.S. team retain its title in a biennial event that determines the best team in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

It preserved Bradley's unbeaten record (10-0-1) since replacing Bruce Arena and earned the Americans a spot in the FIFA Confederations Cup, a mini-World Cup of sorts in South Africa in 2009.

"It's a great goal and, at such a stage against Mexico in the Gold Cup, it's unbelievable," said Feilhaber, 22, an Irvine, Calif., native who left UCLA early to pursue a European career and landed at German club Hamburg.

The goal was one of countless memorable moments during a pulsating clash that offered sensational saves by each goalkeeper, a disputed penalty kick, a breathtaking performance by Mexican forward Nery Castillo, a U.S. shot that hit the post and another that struck the crossbar.

After four minutes of added time, Guatemalan referee Carlos Batres signaled the end and triggered a flag-waving celebration by the Americans and a quiet exit by Mexico's green-clad supporters.

"It's nice to win the Gold Cup, but it's a little bit sweeter when we beat Mexico and we came from behind," Bocanegra said. "It was nice to know we drained their spirits."

The match got off to a brisk start and never relented. With Castillo's speed and technique wreaking havoc, Mexico was the better team for much of the first half. The 23-year-old Castillo, who was born in Mexico to Uruguayan parents and has lived and played in Greece since he was 16, missed fractionally wide in the 41st minute before setting up Andres Guardado's goal three minutes later.

Castillo worked his magic on the right side, beating Oguchi Onyewu and serving a cross to the unmarked Guardado for a sliding finish into the top of the net.

"As you grow as a team, you learn to win in different ways and one thing we really haven't had in a while is a situation where we were behind," said Bradley, whose team trailed Denmark in his debut in January but had not faced a deficit since. "It was different today to be down at halftime and to see the group get stronger. The mood at halftime was: 'We're going to win a different kind of game today. It's going to take everybody pushing to the end.' "

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