By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 27, 2009
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., July 26 -- On the heels of an uplifting and surprising performance in the FIFA Confederations Cup in June, the United States entered the CONCACAF Gold Cup looking to discover depth by fielding a squad of largely inexperienced players.
The U.S. squad worked its way through the regional tournament and into the final against lesser opponents in the first few rounds. But facing their first real test in a hostile atmosphere against Mexico at Giants Stadium, the Americans showed their inexperience.
In front of a pro-Mexican crowd of 79,156 at the Meadowlands, the U.S. team fell apart over a 23-minute sequence in the second half, allowing four goals, and was embarrassed at the hands of its biggest rival, 5-0, in the Gold Cup championship.
The loss was the United States' first to a CONCACAF rival on home soil since 2001 and its first to Mexico at home since March 13, 1999, a 2-1 defeat in San Diego.
The loss was the worst at home for the United States since a 5-0 loss to England on June 16, 1985, in Los Angeles. It also ties for the worst loss ever to Mexico at home, equaling a 7-2 setback on April 28, 1957, in Long Beach, Calif. The U.S. squad lost 6-0 at Mexico twice, in 1949 and 1957.
"The area where we didn't do well enough was our response to the first goal," Coach Bob Bradley said. "I think the first half we played pretty well. . . . But now when you get down your ability to make sure that the game doesn't just become a free-for-all. Where all of a sudden the other team has all sorts of space and opportunities, your numbers aren't good enough in the back when the ball turns over, where you lose a lot of balls, so there's a lot of things there that obviously came into play. I think it's most important that we can look at those things."
After a first half in which the United States had better possession and limited Mexico's opportunities to some late, albeit threatening, counterattacks, the floodgates opened with a questionable penalty kick call in the 56th minute.
Mexican star Giovani Dos Santos received a pass with his back to the goal in the U.S. 18-yard box and defender Jay Heaps draped over him. Heaps gave Dos Santos a slight tug at first, but nothing overwhelming, and Dos Santos seemed to lean and throw his arm and elbow back at Heaps.
The U.S. defender tumbled backward and Dos Santos crumpled on top of him, and Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell immediately whistled and pointed to the spot.
"I wish I would get that call sometimes," U.S. forward Brian Ching said. "Put it that way."
Mexico captain Gerardo Torrado buried the penalty kick down the middle as former D.C. United goalkeeper Troy Perkins dove to his right, and Mexico seized the 1-0 lead.
The spot kick was the beginning of the end for the United States.
From that moment on, the Mexicans fed both off the momentum of their slim advantage as well as the energy of the crowd, which was at least 80 percent in favor of the visitors.
With Mexico attacking at will and given plenty of space, the Americans were fortunate not to find themselves down by more almost immediately, with Perkins forced to make saves in the 59th and 61st minute to keep the margin at one.
But in the 62nd El Tri again pushed forward unchallenged, with Israel Castro leading the attack, and after Perkins turned back two shots, Dos Santos buried the third shot to make it 2-0.
From there the onslaught continued.
Carlos Vela was on the end of a nicely weighted pass in the 67th minute and chipped a left-footed shot over Perkins and just inside the far post to make it 3-0, and 12 minutes after that Vela set up teammate Jose Antonio Castro with a soft touch to extend the lead to four.
"As a soccer player you should know how to rebound from these situations," U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden said. "Every single one of us has been behind in a game before and I think it's just one of those things it was just one, the penalty, and then two and three came and after that it was just a really open game. We lost our shape."
Guillermo Franco put the final touch on Mexico's triumphant performance with a 90th minute goal to the near post from the top of the area, and the U.S. team was left wondering what happened.
The result only adds to the anticipation of the upcoming World Cup qualifier between the United States and Mexico at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on Aug. 12. While the United States will likely have only one or two players from this roster carry over to that game, Mexico's starting lineup from tonight contained several regular starters.
"I'm not in [the Mexico] locker room, I don't know what they're thinking," said Ching, who will likely be on the qualifier roster. "But if they think the next game is going to be anything like this they've got another thing coming."