New England Soccer Today

The Next Episode…

In a tournament riddled by drug suspensions, coaching turmoil, and corporate corruption, there was only one possible story line that could overshadow all the Gold Cup controversy: A Mexico-USA final.

El tri versus the Yanks. Skill versus speed. Chicharito versus Donovan. You name it, and this rivalry probably has it.

But the way in which the squads earned their trip to Pasadena followed a script very few could have foreseen.

For the U.S., it began with a high-profile, pre-tournament warmup against mighty Spain on June 4th that quickly became a national embarrassment as the Spanish spanked the Yanks 4-0.

Meanwhile, the Mexicans began the tournament days later in earnest with a 5-0 throttling of El Salvador in a game in which Chicharito himself scored a hat trick. But, it was a joy that would not last.

Hours after their victory, five Mexican players -Guillermo Ochoa, Francisco Rodríguez, Antonio Naelson “Sinha,” Edgar Dueñas and Christian Bermudez – were all slapped with suspensions for taking a banned substance.

While the Mexicans were busy defending their players – tainted beef was cited as the cause of the positives – the U.S. was busy defending their coach, who was under fire for the Spain debacle and his club’s unconvincing 2-0 win over Canada.

And as Mexico cruised to the semi-finals, the U.S. hiccuped along the way, adding fuel to the “Fire Bob Bradley” debate. They dropped 2-1 loss to Panama in the group stage and forced them to squeak through to the quarters with a 1-0 win over Guadeloupe. Clearly, this was not the way it was supposed to go for the Yanks.

The following Sunday, the U.S. appeared to put any anxiety and doubts to rest when they beat Jamaica in the quarterfinals. And yet later that week, they struggled to salvage a 1-0 win over Panama in the semi-finals as the shouts for a coaching change grew louder.

But the U.S. wasn’t the only team that had its ticket to the final far from punched. Despiter tearing through the tournament in convincing fashion, Mexico needed overtime to beat Honduras in the semis.

Despite the fact that both teams may have struggled some to get over the hump in the semis, the picture has been painted: The Mexicans have clearly been the team of the tournament while the Americans have stumbled through, happy to get by with a series of marginal victories.

Tonight’s matchup is more than just a game between regional rivals. The stakes are much, much greater than that. Important questions will need to be answered.

Will Bob Bradley keep his job? Are the American tactics growing stale? Is Mexico re-emerging as the undisputed king of CONCACAF? Will Chicharito continue his goalscoring exploits against the U.S.?

Unlike previous finals, the loser may may not be able to walk away unscathed. Jobs and reputations are at stake. The trajectories of both sqauds could take very different turns. In short, it’ll be a two-hour summer blockbuster dripping with drama from start to finish.

And with the Rose Bowl and its 90,000+ seating capacity – of which will be largely inhabited by Mexican supporters – serving as the stage for the climactic showdown of the continental titans, there’s no doubt that anything less simply would not suffice.

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