U.S. soccer head coach Bob Bradley has saved his job, and on Saturday night has the chance to make all his critics eat crow.
After a sluggish start to the Gold Gup, the United States has found its way the Final to face main rival Mexico on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena.
The site of many great soccer events, this will not be much of a home field advantage for the Yanks. Southern California has a very large Mexican population, and the U.S. would be lucky if one-third of the stadium is supporting the red, white, and blue.
Mexico has had a better tournament than the Americans. While the U.S. has struggled against weak teams, El Tri has dominated them.
But previous matches may not mean much on Saturday night. The U.S. has steadily improved from their poor showings against Panama and Guadeloupe, and Mexico is coming off a lackluster overtime victory over lowly Honduras in the semi-finals.
Also, El Tri lost five of their players after testing positive for drugs, including their starting goalkeeper.
This rivalry has been very intense over the years, and there will be no shortage of motivation to win for either team.
The U.S. has the better goalkeeper in Tim Howard, but backup Alfredo Talavera, has done an admirable job replacing Memo Ochoa.
Bob Bradley also has a stronger midfield in Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and his son Michael Bradley, to go along with defensive midfielders Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu. Mexico is certainly not weak in midfield, but this squad may not have the creativity and defensive presense to maintain better ball possession.
But after goalkeeper and the midfield, Mexico is stronger. Head coach Jose Manuel de la Torre has a very smart defense anchored by captain and former Barcelona star Rafael Marquez. Mexico also has attacking defenders Carlos Salcido and Efrain Juarez, and plenty of solid players in reserve.
Where Mexico really has the advantage is at forward. The U.S. is thin up front due to injuries, while Mexico is loaded with scorers like Manchester United Javier El Chicharito Hernandez and Aldo de Negris, who have contrasting styles that will provide a test for the U.S. defense.
PREDICTION: The game will probably be decided by how well central defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Clarence Goodson play. Also, it will be interesting if Mexico's defense plays the U.S. forwards tightly, or if they push forward. More than likely, Mexico's attack will find Hernandez or de Negris to give them opportunities to score, and they will slip one past Howard and win the Gold Cup.
SCORE PREDICTION: Mexico 1, USA 0
D: Lichaj, Goodson, Bocanegra, Cherundolo
M: Jones, Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan
F: Agudelo, Bedoya
D: Salcido, Marquez, Moreno, Juarez
M: Dos Santos, Barrera, Torrado, Castro
F: Hernandez, de Negris