OK CONCACAF and Gold Cup coordinators you can exhale. It looked rocky at times but all your worry was for nothing. The dream final is set for Saturday and after Wednesday’s matches the US and Mexico look to be a more of an even talent level than anyone would have predicted a week ago.
US gets late boost
The US was the first team to play Wednesday night and met a familiar and very game opponent in Panama. With the opposition committed to breaking up play and staying compact the US found unlocking the Panama defense a tough task in the first half.
With the team looking for energy head man Bob Bradley – who made a shocking move to start Landon Donovan on the bench for the second straight game – introduced the LA Galaxy playmaker after the half for the struggling Sacha Kljestan.
20 minutes into the second half the move had not paid off. In actuality Panama had gained the better of the play. Then came a masterstroke from Bradley, he re-introduced Freddy Adu to the US fan base.
Adu – a much maligned figure in US soccer – came on to bring a spark and measure of creativity to the US attack. The move yielded the ultimate pay off in the 77th minute when Adu hit a sublime pass setting Donovan in on the right flank. The number 10 sent a skilled pass across the box to the waiting Clint Dempsey who knocked the assist home to send the US to Los Angeles for the tournament final.
Mexico gets a run for their money
Mexico was considered “the unstoppable force” coming into the knockout stages, but after a tough quarterfinal against Guatemala El Tri were in a similar situation Wednesday night.
Honduras was more than up to the challenge of handling the tournament’s most dangerous attacking team. The two teams played to a very physical – the game saw 44 fouls total – and hard fought 0-0 stalemate after 90 minutes.
However in extra time the Mexicans found their scoring touch. Aldo de Nigris hit home the game winner just minutes into the first extra time session. And just for good measure, Chicharito scored a clincher 10 minutes later.
The wins set the tournament favorites on a course for a third straight final. Both teams went through tough matches and both should be on the mend in the next few days. But with the teams splitting the 2007 and 2009 finales, Saturday’s match holds major intrigue for all interested.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com and contributes to Soccerlens.com during the Gold Cup. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.