Haiti were on the verge of a famous win over the USA in Boston on Saturday night, but a last-gasp, long-range equaliser from Stuart Holden in the 91st minute levelled the score at 2-2 and gave the host Americans first place in Group B of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Honduras finish as runners-up thanks to a 4-0 win over Grenada in the late match, while the Haitians sneak through as one of the top third-place teams.
The Americans, with an experimental side involving no less than four players earning their first caps, wasted no time opening the scoring. Scottish-born Stuart Holden, occupying the creator's role in the centre of the park, slotted an inch-perfect through ball for Davy Arnaud in the sixth minute. The Kansas City Wizard scored his first international goal, slotting beneath the onrushing Jean Domenique Zephirin.
Holden was at the centre of things again in the 29th minute when, shortly after picking up the game's first booking, he slammed a savage strike from 35 yards. Zephirin scrambled to get the slightest touch to the effort, pushing it off the underside of the crossbar. Judging by their reactions, the American players thought the ball had crossed the line.
We had a hard time finding our rhythm, but in the end we ground out the result with hard work and perseverance.
Just seconds later it was Haiti's chance to threaten an equaliser. Fabrice Noel fired with his right foot from the edge of the box, and Germany-based US goalkeeper Luis Robles was forced to scurry back to clear the danger after spilling the ball at the first attempt.
The first half ended with another flourish from the visitors. Leonel Saint Preaux stole the ball from Michael Parkhurst near the corner flag, broke into the area and crossed dangerously. Noel missed his kick and Sirin Vaniel was denied by Robles.
Picking up right where they left off, the Haitians were rewarded with a pair of goals inside four minutes of the restart. Jay Heaps, notching his first cap at age 33, was turned inside-out by Saint Preaux on the wing in the 46th minute and Vaniel nodded home a diving effort at the back post to level the score. Mones Chery then put Haiti into the lead in the 49th minute when his stunning half volley from long range snuck inside the top corner.
US coach Bob Bradley brought on wonder boy Charlie Davies with a little under 30 minutes to go. He provided an immediate spark, pouncing on an error in the Haitian rearguard and hitting just wide of the goal. However, it was Holden who capped a man-of-the-match performance and sealed the deal in the waning moments, scoring a thunderous volley from outside the area to make the final score 2-2.
"We achieved our goal of winning the group and advancing tonight," Coach Bradley said after the game. "We also learned some lessons. We had a hard time finding our rhythm, but in the end we ground out the result with hard work and perseverance."
Honduras hammered Grenada 4-0 in the final game of Group B. Walter Martinez and Roger Espinoza scored inside the first 25 minutes to give the Catrachos a commanding lead at the break. Melvin Valladares and Carlos Costly added two more in the second half to complete the rout of the Spice Boyz, who leave the finals without a point or a goal to their name.
The US finish top of Group B with runners-up Honduras assured of a date with Canada in the quarter-finals. Haiti will take on either Mexico or Guadeloupe.