The United States and Mexico face off in the final of the 2019 Gold Cup at Soldier Field. It’s the final everyone anticipated. From the players, the fans, coahces, and even the governing body. But it’s not the first time these two sides will play one another for the biggest prize in CONCACAF. It won’t even be the first time in Chicago, at Soldier Field.
Allow me to take you down a trip to memory lane.
The year was 2007 and Mexico was starting off a new era under Hugo Sanchez, arguably their best player ever. He was appointed as manager after the 2006 World Cup where Mexico, managed by Ricardo LaVolpe, were knocked out in the round of 16 by Argentina. Despite another early exit, Mexico left a good impression in Germany and some wanted him to continue.
Mexico had a tough time leading up to the final. They finished second in their group behind Honduras and narrowly defeated Costa Rica and Guadeloupe to reach the final. There were also some internal issues with Carlos Salcido and a few of the players declaring they would not be playing in that year’s Copa America.
The US had a much better go of it both in group play, topping the group with nine points and now allowing a single goal. Admittedly, they too struggled in the knockout rounds, but not to the extent Mexico did. In the end, both of them made it to the final.
It was a grand occasion as then-FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, was on hand to take in the final.
Bob Bradley sent out the following line-up (4-4-1-1):
Spector – Onyewu – Bocanegra – Bornstein
Dempsey – Mastroeni – Feilhaber – Beasley
Hugo Sanchez sent out the following for Mexico (4-4-2):
Osorio – Marquez – Magallon – Salcido
Medina – Pardo – Lozano – Guardado
Borgetti – Castillo
Ricardo Osorio, Carlos Salcido, and Pavel Pardo were the aforementioned players who made it known that they were not going to participate in the Copa America.
Fast forward twelve years, there are only two players from that 2007 final who will play in the 2019 one. For Mexico, that is Andres Guardado and for the US, it’s Michael Bradley. Technically, he didn’t play because he was suspended but both are the last remaining stalwarts from that game.
It was a tight game with neither side willing to be too adventurous considering the magnitude of the game. Mexico would strike first courtesy of Andres Guardado in the 44th minute thanks to a great run from Nery Castillo (what could have been) who crossed the ball inside the box to unmarked Guardado.
Landon Donovan would level the score in the 61st minute thanks to a penalty. But the moment -and goal- that everyone remembers from this game occurred in the 73rd minute.
Off a corner-kick, Mexico thought they had cleared the danger until their headed clearance fell to the foot of Benny Feilhaber. Feilhaber first-timed the volley and hammered it home past the outstretched arm of Oswaldo Sanchez.
The US went crazy and held off for the remaining twenty minutes or so, including stoppage time. Mexico tried their best to equalize bringing on skill players, though without much pace, in Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Adolfo ‘Bofo’ Bautista, with the latter having a point-blank shot saved late in the game.
The US celebrated their victory in a near-empty Soldier Field as the overwhelming majority of those in attendance were there supporting Mexico. As soon as the final whistle blew, many headed for the exits. I should know, as I was there that day rooting for El Tri.
While Mexico got revenge four years later, this final turned out to be crucial not only in the rivalry but their World Cup cycles. Bob Bradley provided stability for the US and went on to coach the 2010 World Cup.
For Mexico, Hugo Sanchez’s time as manager was a disaster and got fired/resigned after Mexico failed to qualify for the Olympics. He was replaced by Javier Aguirre, who had a lackluster 2010 World Cup and the merry-go-round of managers continued causing Mexico to have to play a playoff game against New Zealand to qualify for the World Cup in 2014.
With a return to Chicago, both teams come in a bit of a transition period with new managers at the helm. The sold-out crowd at Soldier Field will undoubtedly once again be partisan in favor of Mexico. But as the US showed in 2007, that does not matter to them. A Confederations Cup birth no longer in play, the latest chapter in their rivalry will provide a measuring stick to see where both sides in their rebuilding efforts.