22 minutes into the Gold Cup Final, Bob Bradley looked to be the smartest coach in the Hemisphere, and the USMNT seemed ready to stake its claim as the dominant soccer force in the region once again. Four unanswered Mexico goals later, a dejected U.S. squad walked off the field having lost to Mexico 4-2, knowing full well that it had wasted an incredible opportunity to defeat our biggest rival.
The Yanks 2-0 lead in the 22nd minute was no mirage; they earned it with beautiful movement and opportunistic play. But Steve Cherundolo’s early ankle injury exposed the U.S.’s greatest weakness — a lack of depth in defense. Cherundolo’s replacement, Jonathan Bornstein, hadn’t seen a minute of action during the entire Gold Cup and frankly, he played like it. Compounding matters, when Bornstein entered the game at left back, Eric Lichaj was shifted from left back to right back, and struggled to make the adjustment.
A resilient El Tri squad led by Giovani dos Santos and Pablo Barrera sensed this weakness and pounced, victimizing Bornstein and Lichaj — and the entire U.S. back line — relentlessly. As a result, a very promising U.S. start turned into a demoralizing defeat.
Here’s how the individual players performed.
The Ratings (on a scale of 1, Horrible; to 10, World Class):
Tim Howard: Could Howard have done better on any of the Mexico goals? Sure. He got caught flat-footed on Barrera’s 28th-minute strike and there was no reason to wander so far out of goal and invite dos Santos to deliver his left-footed highlight reel — which effectively ended the game. But Howard cannot be blamed completely for any of the Mexico goals; he just didn’t serve up his usual magic to deny El Tri at any crucial moments. Rating: 5
Eric Lichaj: Lichaj now knows how a used piñata feels, and not just because dos Santos and Barrera gave him a rough time for the full 90 minutes. A seemingly confused Lichaj was bouncing off his own teammates and appeared disoriented soon after an injured Steve Cherundolo came out of the match in the 12th minute. Was Lichaj supposed to play strictly on the left? Or should he shift over to the right when his man switched sides? Nobody seemed to know, and it took far too long for the U.S. defense to sort itself out. By the time it did, the score was tied, 2-2, and Mexico had stolen the momentum. Adding to Lichaj’s miserable day, his out-of-sync positioning set up Mexico’s go-ahead goal shortly after halftime. It was a brutal day on many levels. Rating: 3
Carlos Bocanegra: The U.S. Captain won praise for organizing the back line throughout the Gold Cup and for helping the USMNT secure four shutouts in their first five games. On Championship night, however, the defense was a chaotic mess, and Bocanegra seemed powerless to do anything about it. Credit the speedy Mexican attack for putting Bocanegra and his teammates on their heels, but even so, we’d expect the savvy veteran to shore things up a bit better than he did. Rating: 4.5
Clarence Goodson: At first glance, Goodson appeared to have an awful game. His aerial game was largely nullified by the Mexican short-passing game, he was perennially making desperate lunges, and he always seemed to be a step behind attackers who somehow got in behind him. As bad as all of that sounds, Goodson actually did O.K. He was simply victimized by the poor play of his fullbacks, who hung him out to dry again and again. Rating: 5.5
Steve Cherundolo: Cherundolo left the game in the 11th minute with an ankle injury, and the U.S. defense collapsed shortly thereafter. You’ve got to believe the game would have played out differently if Cherundolo hadn’t left it so early. Rating: Incomplete
Clint Dempsey: Dempsey’s perfectly weighted pass to Landon Donovan set up the U.S.’s second goal and, for a moment, gave American supporters the feeling that we could take on the world. (Technically beautiful goals have a way of doing that, and Dempsey tends to be a central figure in the U.S’s best ones.) Once Mexico clawed its way back into the game, however, Dempsey became visibly frustrated and struggled to funnel his aggression into productive play. His left-footed strike nearly tied the game in the 60th minute, but it slammed off the crossbar. From that point on, Dempsey provided little threat and seemed extremely angry, earning a late yellow card for arguing with the referee. Rating: 5
Jermaine Jones: When Jones in on his game, he’s everywhere — breaking up tackles, starting counterattacks and engaging in the sort of rough play that makes opponents think twice before challenging him. Unfortunately for the U.S., Jones wasn’t on his game against Mexico. In fact, he was way off his game. Low on energy and barely a factor for the first hour, Jones finally got into the flow when the U.S. fell behind and started playing with desperation. But it was way too little far too late. Rating: 4
Michael Bradley: Bradley’s up-and-down performance epitomized the larger USMNT effort. He had his pocket picked badly in the sixth minute, setting up a marvelous chance for dos Santos that almost went in. Shortly thereafter, however, Bradley scored after making a smart near-post run and cleverly nodding in a corner kick from Freddy Adu. But a short while later Bradley gave up another bad ball in the defensive zone — this time to Gerardo Torrado — which nearly turned into a Mexican goal. Credit Bradley for playing hard and quashing several promising Mexican attacks, but it wasn’t his strongest effort. Rating: 5.5
Alejandro Bedoya: Lots of energy, little quality — that’s Bedoya’s game right now. Against a lesser squad, Bedoya’s speed and commitment is sufficient. Against Mexico, it’s not even close. Rating: 3.5
Freddy Adu: He’s back. He belongs. Adu started his first U.S. national team game in two years and made Bradley look like a genius for selecting him. Adu’s brilliant ball control set up an eighth-minute corner kick that led to the Americans’ first goal — a corner that Adu himself delivered. Adu later sprung Dempsey at the top of the penalty area, which led directly to Donovan’s 22nd-minute strike. Brought in to provide an offensive spark, the lil' midfielder did precisely that. And he certainly cannot be blamed for the defensive miscues that cost the U.S. the match. Rating: 6.5
Landon Donovan: Donovan scored a good goal halfway through the first half, but he didn’t have any answers for the Mexican surge that followed. Donovan can be forgiven for taking a silly yellow card in the 32nd minute, but we expect our top players to stand up in the face of adversity and Donovan didn’t. Once the U.S. was down, Donovan was out. Not a good sign. Rating: 5
Jonathan Bornstein: The dropoff in talent from Cherundolo to Bornstein is HUGE, and when Cherundolo left the game in the 12th minute with an ankle injury, the USMNT squad’s lack of depth proved to be its undoing. Bornstein had a disastrous performance. His poor positioning was directly responsible for two Mexican goals and contributed to a third. He never seemed to be in the right position and offered the Mexican offense little resistance. Rating: 1
Juan Agudelo: Agudelo came on for Alejandro Bedoya in the 62nd minute with one purpose in mind: score a game-tying goal. Trouble is, Agudelo couldn’t even manage to control the ball when it arrived at his feet, much less maneuver himself into a scoring position and slot one past goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera. Agudelo looked awkward in the Gold Cup Final; the 18-year-old failed to stand up to the physical challenges he faced, and he provided no offensive threat whatsoever. Hopefully his confidence won’t suffer damage as a result of this poor effort. Rating: 3
Sacha Kljestan: Kljestan replaced Freddy Adu in the 86th minute. Rating: Incomplete