CONCACAF Gold Cup Final: Battle of the “B” Sides Broken Down
When “B” teams face off it’s tough to make determinations about things. Today’s game at Giants Stadium is sold out and is a Continental Championship match. But the fact is Mexico and the United States are both fielding “B” teams.
Mexico has a roster that includes just 7 of 23 players chosen by Javier Aguirre for the most recent World Cup qualifiers. The US team has just two players, Brian Ching and Heath Pearce who have featured regularly in qualifying. In fact, Pearce has been one of the best players in the tournament, but the fact that he lost his regular place in the USA starting XI due to his troubles in qualifying on the road says a great deal about this tournament.
With this tournament permanently held in either the US or Mexico, results often times seem pre-ordained. (for more on that check out Episode 100 of the MLS Talk Podcast with Juan Arango who has commentated on the tournament for the international TV feed) But both teams have done well to get this far. Bob Bradley has shown his tactical and player selection savvy all summer long while Javier Aguirre has quickly restored Mexican confidence after a very poor start to this tournament.
But what exactly can you tell from a “B” match?
- Coaching & Tactics
Bob Bradley hasn’t had quite the success against Mexico on American soil that Bruce Arena did. In Arena’s tenure, Mexico didn’t score a goal in their last six games vs the US. But in Bradley’s three games vs Mexico the US has given up three goals. Part of this is because Bradley is more aggressive from the start than Arena who preferred to hold back and counter attack. But Javier Aguirre is one of the few coaches from CONCACAF to ever have success outside the region and as good as Bradley has been, he’s now matching wits with someone very accomplished.
We could also learn that Aguirre cannot match wits with Bradley. After all, Aguirre’s Osusuna and Athletico Madrid team constantly lost big games and Bob Bradley is the one manager on the planet who has put one over Vincent Del Bosque in the last year.
In 2004 when the US fielded a “B +/A-” team in Dallas versus Mexico which included Jonny Walker in goal, the victory signified Arena’s tactical mastery of Ricardo LaVolpe. It also hastened LaVolpe’s desperation to naturalize more players, especially Guille Franco and Zinha who served El Tri well in Germany 2006.
Of course in 2007, the US played in Glendale with the likes of Josh Gros, Brian Carrol, and Chris Rolfe and beat Mexico 2-0. For that game, Hugo Sanchez called in a full “A” squad. The coach for the US that night? Bob Bradley.
Our friends who support the England national team will also recall the 2-1 loss suffered by England B to Belarus on the eve of Germany 2006, which told us a great deal about Sven Goran Eriksson inability to make tactical changes with a second unit against a spirited opponent.
- Does the US keep its shape at the back?
Mexico’s strikers in this tournament have been good, but the El Tri midfield isn’t anywhere near the caliber that the US will face next month in Azteca. If the US loses its shape, even with the makeshift lineup, expect real trouble next month. Positioning is the key. Mexico’s attack has broken down consistently in the final third in this tournament because of a lack of creative midfielders.
- Are Vela, Dos Santos and Ochoa Ready to Lead?
With the exception of Gerrado Torrado, Jonny Magallon and Guille Franco, El Tri will field a very inexperienced squad tomorrow. Even the older players on the team have either not played much at the international level or like Omar Bravo they are possibly being given one last chance to prove they should be considered going forward.
But three of the stars that led Mexico to the 2005 World Youth Championship are on this team. (It should be noted the best player of that 2005 bunch, Andres Guardado is not on this team, and Guardado is clearly the best full international of the bunch also) This triumvirate needs to show their mettle if the Mexicans have any chance to win this game.
Personally, I think Ochoa has been spectacular most of this tournament. Gio has looked shaky at times but had a great game vs Haiti. Vela, however is the most ready to contribute in a big way, but could easily be pushed off the ball by big US defenders like Clarence Goodson, Jimmy Conrad and Chad Marshall.
LARGEST GOLD CUP CROWDS FOR THE USA
Today’s game has been reported as a sellout. Here are the 10 largest Gold Cup attendances for the USA entering today
1998 Final vs Mexico (Pasadena) 91,255
1996 vs Guatemala (Pasadena) 88,125
2007 Final vs Mexico (Chicago) 60,000
2009 vs Honduras (Chicago) 55,173
1996 vs El Salvador (Anaheim) 52,355
2007 vs Canada (Chicago) 50,760
2000 vs Peru (Miami) 50,004
2000 vs Haiti (Miami) 49,513
2002 vs Korea Rep. (Pasadena) 42,117
2005 vs Honduras (East Rutherford) 41,721
Incidentally, the smallest crowd ever for a US Gold Cup match was the 2003 third place game in Miami which I attended versus Costa Rica (then coached by Steve Sampson). Only 5,093 attended the game just days after the US lost a semifinal match in front of over 35,000 in the same stadium.
US-MEX Gold Cup History with US scorers (all matches in the finals others than 1991 which was a semifinal match)
1991 Los Angeles USA wins 2-0 Peter Vermes, John Doyle
1993 Mexico City MEX wins 4-0
1998 Pasadena MEX wins 1-0
2007 Chicago USA wins 2-1 Landon Donovan, Benny Feilhaber