FOX Soccer Exclusive
United States vs. Mexico, matchups
One side boasts a veteran nucleus, while the other features some of the best young talent in the CONCACAF region. One team features an improving defense that can stifle opponents, while the other boasts an attack capable of torching any back-line.
PATH TO GLORY: USA
|June 7 (Group C)||Canada||2-0, USA|
|June 11 (Group C)||Panama||1-2, PAN|
|June 14 (Group C)||Guadeloupe||1-0, USA|
|June 19 (Quarters)||Jamaica||2-0, USA|
|June 22 (Semis)||Panama||1-0, USA|
The United States and Mexico square off at the Rose Bowl today and you couldn’t ask for more different teams to be meeting each other with a trophy on the line.
The United States has overcome a slow start to its Gold Cup to reach the final on the strength of three straight shutouts. Mexico began the tournament on fire, but slowed down in the group stages against defensive-minded opponents that enjoyed modest success slowing down Mexico’s high-octane offense.
While some may consider Mexico a clear favorite heading into the 2011 Gold Cup Final, it’s tough to give one team a clear edge over the other. The 2009 Gold Cup Final won by Mexico over the USA means little considering that U.S. team was a patchwork squad with only one player on it who will see playing time in Saturday’s final.
Exactly who will be playing on Saturday night? If you listen to the coaches, the decisions on lineups are still up in the air. Chances are that’s just coach speak and both Landon Donovan and Andres Guardado will find themselves in their team’s starting lineups.
Here is a closer look at all the key match-ups that will help determine the winner of Saturday’s Final:
Andres Guardado vs. Steve Cherundolo
Guardado’s health status is key for Mexico because his presence allows ‘El Tri’ to deploy it’s 4-2-3-1 formation with Gio Dos Santos in the hole and Javier Hernandez up top. Guardado gave Cherundolo fits the last time these two met at Azteca in 2009, but Cherundolo has had a strong Gold Cup tournament. If Guardado can’t play, then look for Dos Santos to work the left flank, which would present equally difficult challenges for Cherundolo.
Jermaine Jones vs. Giovani Dos Santos
If mexico plays Dos Santos centrally, look for Jermaine Jones to be assigned to shadowing the fast and tricky playmaker. The problem with trying to contain Dos Santos is that he’s so mobile it can be difficult for one player to try and cover him. Jones and Michael Bradley will be called on to clog the middle, which could force Dos Santos to push wide to find room to operate.
Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez vs. Carlos Bocanegra
No, this isn’t a straight one-on-one match-up, but Bocanegra will be the most important defender in the quest to stop ‘Chicharito’. Bocanegra needs to keep the defensive line organized so that Hernandez can’t slip behind, and he must continue to dominate in the air, where Hernandez can also do damage. Ultimately though, Bocanegra and the U.S. defense will need the American midfield to limit service to the Manchester United striker because he doesn’t need many looks to find the net.
Juan Agudelo vs. Hector Moreno
As much as it would be intriguing to watch Agudelo match up against Red Bulls teammate Rafa Marquez, the reality is Moreno is the more athletic centerback, and better equipped to deal with Agudelo’s size-speed combination.
Clint Dempsey vs. Rafa Marquez
Dempsey won’t be playing as a natural striker, but Marquez will likely be tasked with keeping tabs on where Dempsey floats. Marquez should get some help from Gerardo Torrado, but will have a tough task handling the in-form Dempsey.
Pablo Barrera vs. Eric Lichaj
This battle of speedsters isn’t getting as much attention as it should. Barrera is a speedster who can beat defenders with ease, but Lichaj matches up well with speedy wingers and has shown a willingness to get forward himself. Lichaj will need to hold his own in this battle so that the back-line can focus on containing Dos Santos and Guardado.
Michael Bradley vs. Gerardo Torrado
PATH TO GLORY: MEXICO
|June 5 (Group A)||El Salvador||5-0, MEX|
|June 9 (Group A)||Cuba||5-0, MEX|
|June 12 (Group A)||Costa Rica||4-1, MEX|
|June 18 (Quarters)||Guatemala||2-1, MEX|
|June 22 (Semis)||Honduras||2-0 (aet), MEX|
This will be a battle for those who love good, hard-nosed battles. Torrado does his share of grunt work, but can also deliver quality passes from deep. Bradley needs to make Torrado work defensively while also ensuring he doesn’t have much space to do his own creating.
Landon Donovan vs. Efrain Juarez
If Donovan starts, and it’s hard to see him not starting, he’ll need to apply some serious pressure to Juarez, a very good right back who can get forward in his own right. Donovan will need to help out defensively on Barrera, but must also push forward to keep Mexico honest on their right wing. If Donovan has a flat performance, Mexico could have a field day.
Tim Howard vs. Mexico’s strikers
Between ‘Chicharito’ and likely supersub Aldo Denigris, Mexico has two deadly accurate finishers who will test Howard. The Everton goalkeeper will need to have a monster day, much like he had in the U.S. team’s 2007 Gold Cup Final win against Mexico, in order for the Americans to regain the Gold Cup. Howard would also give the Americans an edge if the match went to penalty kicks.
Alejandro Bedoya vs. Carlos Salcido
If Salcido recovers from his heel injury he will have the edge in experience in his battle with Bedoya, but Bedoya has enjoyed a strong tournament, combining speed and tenacity to become an important part of the U.S. midfield. If Salcido can’t play, Bedoya could enjoy success against reserve Mexican left back Jorge Torres Nilo.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.