Friday, June 22, 2007

Sunday, Bloody Sunday -- It'll be the U.S. facing Mexico in what promises to be a physical, hard-fought, memorable Gold Cup final. These teams are bitter rivals, with much to prove, because both teams have struggled on the road to the tournament final. Tonight, the U.S. weathered some dangerous Canadian attacks, to get two goals in the final minutes of the first-half. Officially, the U.S.A. held on to a 2-1 win, and gained a berth in Sunday's final, but they had some undeserved help from the officials.

Once again, the U.S. did not do a good job of protecting their lead. They allowed one goal midway through the second period, and then surrendered what should have been the tying goal, deep into stoppage time. Indeed, it was so deep into stoppage time that one wonders why the teams were still playing. Four and a half minutes into stoppage time, the game Canadians tried to pass over the undermanned U.S. defense (the U.S. was playing with only 10 men). Oguchi Onyewu got his head to the ball, but couldn't redirect it. The ball deflected off the top of Onyewu's head, and fell to Canadian striker Atiba Hutchinson, behind the U.S. defense. Hutchinson's shot beat U.S. goalie Kasey Keller. For some reason, the play was ruled offsides, a call that was incorrect for two reasons. First, when the pass was first struck, the Canadian striker was still onsides. Second, the ball was played next by the American Onyewu. That couldn't put the Canadians offsides, even if Hutchinson had moved beyond the defense (replays appear to show he may have still been in an onsides position, even at that point -- but he was surely onsides when the pass was first struck).

The only rational explanation is that the officials were confused, and thought the ball was being sent on by a Canadian, instead of Onyewu. If the linesman believed Hutchinson was already in an offsides position, he was mistaken. It was a glaring error, and the Canadians are right to believe this game was taken from them by the officials. Perhaps, the Candians can take solace that they have served notice -- Canada has certainly closed the gap, and now have to be considered among CONCACAF's elite. The U.S. can no longer take games against Canada for granted. A good effort by Canada, but it is the U.S. that will play in the Gold Cup final.

Mexico struggled to find net through much of their game against Guadeloupe. They were denied repeatedly, thanks to several scintillating plays by Guadeloupe's goalkeeper. The Tricolores also failed to finish some good chances around the net. Their honor, and place in the final was secured with a long blast by Pavel Pardo that twisted through the defense, and found the upper corner of the goal, in the 70th minute. Chicago's Soldier Field positively rocked with the cheers of the Mexico faithful.

It appears the U.S. will be facing a surprisingly unfriendly crowd on Sunday in Chicago. Even in Chicago, the American fans will be vastly outnumbered, if tonight's crowd was any indication. The Mexican team will be out for blood, and the U.S. squad has played indecisively. However, the U.S. has shown flashes of brilliance. They will be missing Frankie Hejduk, who has been the best defender, and scored the game's first goal tonight. Hejduk accumulated his second yellow card of the knockout stages, and will have to sit this one out. The U.S. will also be without hte services of young Michael Bradley, who was ejected in the 89th minute. Bradley's solid positional play will be sorely missed. Still, the U.S. has an excellent chance of beating Mexico. In games outside of Mexico, the U.S.A. have dominated the series in recent years, and are well-positioned to continue that dominance. Hopefully, the Americans have saved their best game for last.

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