The United States and Mexico will square off for the CONCACAF Gold Cup crown for a second time running this Sunday. The host Stars and Stripes made easy work of Honduras in the early semi-final at Soldier Field in Chicago, while Mexico needed extra time and penalties to overcome an inspired Costa Rica in the late game. When the two age-old rivals, both tangled on four regional titles apiece, meet at the Meadowlands on Sunday it will be a replay of the 2007 final, which the USA won.
The Americans took the edge early against a lethargic-looking Honduras, creating chances through Brian Ching and Robbie Rogers. But as the Central Americans forced their way back into the contest, the hosts needed to wait until the stroke of halftime to finally pry open the scoring.
Minutes after Martin Chavez rattled the USA crossbar, Stuart Holden - one of Bob Bradley's top players at these finals - swerved in a dangerous corner-kick with his right foot. Tall defender Clarence Goodson, who plays his club football in Norway, powered a thunderous header home in the 45th minute to take a hard-fought lead into the changing room.
The US came out in the second half looking to extend their lead. Putting good pressure on the Honduran rearguard, they forced Donis Escobar into three good saves in quick succession inside 10 minutes of the restart. However, as the hosts failed to capitalise on their early chances, the Hondurans nearly drew level in the last ten minutes, Carlos Costly forcing keeper Troy Perkins to scramble away the opportunity.
The Americans finished off the job in the 90th minute, when substitute Kenny Cooper poked home his second goal in two games after a great bit of build-up by Holden and Santino Quaranta. "I'm thrilled we won the game. We played well overall, even though we had some sloppy moments. We're just thrilled to have booked our place in the final. We'll just need to regroup now, get our focus and get ready for the final."
Mexico edge clasico
The second semi-final in Chicago saw Mexico edge Costa Rica on penalties in a classic Latin American showdown. The Ticos began sharper, looking to take the air out of the wildly pro-Mexican crowd, and nearly opened the scoring after 12 minutes. A powerful strike from the edge of the box by Armando Alonso slammed against Memo Ochoa's post, forcing a collective sigh of relief from the stands.
Although the Mexicans were looking increasingly dangerous on the counter-attack, Costa Rica created the better chances over the course of the first half. Alvaro Saborio, Andy Herron and Alonso all went close to scoring. But Gio dos Santos, Mexico's fleet-footed Spurs man, missed a golden chance for a sucker-punch in the final minute of the opening period when we glanced his free header wide.
The 56th minute brought what looked like a turning point. Mexico were awarded a penalty kick when Costa Rican captain Jose Fernandez handled in the area. Up stepped tournament top scorer Miguel Sabah, but his tame effort was gobbled up by Tico keeper Keylor Navas.
Supersub Guille Franco looked to have saved the day for Mexico late on. Getting on the end of a lofted, hopeful ball from midfield, the Villarreal striker slammed a volley toward goal. The outstanding Navas got a hand to it, but it bobbled over the line all the same making it 1-0 with only seconds to go. Costa Rica were not done yet, though, and Froylan Ledezma chased down a long ball, flicked on by Alvaro Saborio, to guide home the equaliser deep into time-added-on, forcing extra time.
Although both sides went close to scoring in the additional half-hour, a penalty shootout was required to separate the two old rivals. Mexican keeper Ochoa proved the hero on the night, saving from Ledezma as all five of his El Tri teammates hit the net. The USA and Mexico will meet on Sunday in a replay of the 2007 final, where Benny Feilhaber broke the deadlock to force an American win. With both teams balanced on four CONCACAF Gold Cups apiece, the stakes will be high for bragging rights in New Jersey.