Last night, the United States Men’s National Team suffered one of its most humiliating defeats in recent history. Despite heading into its CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal match with Jamaica as overwhelming favorites, the USA shipped two soft goals in the first half and couldn’t close the gap in the second. With that, the hosts are out of the tournament, resigned to going through the motions in the third place match on Saturday. After the final whistle there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth as USA fans called for Jurgen Klinsmann’s head, while the non-USMNT constituencies of Soccer Twitter cackled with unrestrained glee. For fans of the Stars And Stripes, it was undeniably a difficult night. But they don’t have to think back very far to remember an even more painful outing.
This week we look back at the 2011 Gold Cup Final, and in so doing console USMNT fans by reminding them that things can always be worse.
There have been plenty of words on the USA’s rivalry with Mexico put down by people smarter than me, so I’m not going to waste your time by rehashing history. Suffice it to say, when the Yanks and El Tri meet in competitive play, it’s kind of a big deal. And in the Gold Cup Final, with a place in the 2013 Confederations Cup on the line, the atmosphere was even more charged than usual (which is saying something).
In front of a packed crowd at the Rose Bowl, the USMNT got off to a strong start. Michael Bradley put the home side on the board in the 8th minute with a glancing header from a corner kick. 15 minutes later, Landon Donovan doubled the lead after finishing a sneak attack and curling a shot around Alfredo Talavera. The US already had their #DosACero scoreline and looked set to turn on cruise control on their way to pick up the trophy.
And then everything started to fall apart.
Pablo Barrera cut the lead back down to one goal just a few minutes later at the end of a quick counterattack. A short time later at the 36th minute, El Tri got their equalizer when Andrés Guardado capitalized on a big mistake by Tim Howard. The teams went into the tunnel level at 2-2, but the winds were clearly at Mexico’s back.
And then things got worse. Much worse.
Barrera struck again just five minutes into the second half to give Mexico the lead, his totally saveable shot slipping underneath Howard’s frame. The USA, overcome with desperation, started pushing hard to get back into the game. Shots went wide, crosses were cleared out, and headers sailed over the crossbar. It’s a scene USMNT fans are sadly all too familiar with: when the team is in trouble, they fling themselves bodily at the goal and hope for the best. Alas, the Yanks never found their next goal. The game was effectively put to bed in the 76th minute when Giovani Dos Santos tiptoed through the tulips over Tim Howard’s flailing body and hit a looping, mocking chip into the back of the net. Mexico stunned the hosts (and their fiercest rivals) 4-2 to lift the Gold Cup and book a date in Brazil two years later.
The loss was only the USA’s second defeat to Mexico on home soil in twelve years. While that’s not a bad record, the fact that it was the Gold Cup final made it into a bigger scandal than it might’ve been otherwise. A little over a month later, manager Bob Bradley was fired by US Soccer, setting the stage for the Klinsmann Era (the latter was appointed the following day).
Herr Klinsmann will try to earn some redemption this Saturday when his men take on Panama in the consolation match. Meanwhile, Mexico will face off against first-time finalists Jamaica in the big dance on Sunday.