After a tournament filled with oddities - five Mexican players sent home for failing a doping test, the United States losing its first ever group stage match to Panama, of all people - the Gold Cup final on Saturday came down to the match up everyone wanted to see and everyone figured we'd get. The United States took on Mexico at the Rose Bowl, but it might as well have been the Azteca (minus the pollution and altitude, of course).
As entertainment, it didn't disappoint. The US jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, but the Mexicans had leveled things by the end of the half. The second half saw the Mexicans surge ahead on a pair of wonderfully skillful goals (it pains me to write that, believe me!). Check out the last one for yourself:
In the end, El Tri retained the Gold Cup with a 4-2 win. As a reward, they'll represent the region in the next version of the Confederations Cup in Brazil before the 2014 World Cup. If the continue to play like they did for most of the Gold Cup, they'll be a formidable foe.
It was a frustrating experience for a US fan, seeing so much promise go to shit so quickly. Seemed a little like deja vu, too. Which, of course, it was. In the last version of the Confederations Cup, in 2009, the US made the final against Brazil. In that match, too, we jumped to an early 2-0 lead, only to blow it (Brazil won 3-2). Of course, we only made it that far because of a once-in-a-blue-moon alignment of tie breakers.
In light of all that, it seems clear to me that it is time for US coach Bob Bradley to move on. I've really thought so since the end of last year's World Cup. It's rare for any coach to stay with the same team through multiple World Cup cycles and Bradley isn't special enough to warrant being one of them. I'm aware of what the team has accomplished during his term. I just don't think he has the ability to take us any further.
This Gold Cup has been a perfect example of how frustrating Bradley can be. After a solid opener against Canada, we inexplicably lose to Panama - as mentioned, the first time we've ever lost in the group stage of that tournament. And on home soil, no less. But, no worries, all that stood between us and advancing to the quarterfinals was lowly Guadeloupe, which isn't even a FIFA member (it's still part of France). We cruised past them . . . 1-0. True, the game wasn't as close as the score indicates, but the result should have never been in doubt.
Bradley's roster moves can be head scratching in their variety, as well. The big risk of the tournament was bringing Freddy Adu back into the team, much less starting him against Mexico in the final. That paid off handsomely. However, leaving Landon Donovan out of the starting lineup in the semifinal didn't really pan out.
And Bradley's reaction to the injury of right back Steve Cherundolo was a complete and utter failure. Yes, Eric Lichaj played on the right most of the time during his stint with Leeds last season, but he's been on the left for all of his Gold Cup time and playing brilliantly. Shifting him to the right forces him to play out of position, essentially, in the final, while his replacement on the left, Jonathan Bornstein, was his usual disastrous self. Why not Jonathan Spector on the right?
At any rate, the most common defense I've seen of Bradley in the days since the final is that the United States is simply not that talented and he's doing the best he can with what he's got. That might be so. But if that's the case, shouldn't we bring in a new coach to see if he can do more with the same material? We know what Bradley can and can't do - why not find out what somebody else might figure out?
Now is the time to change, before World Cup qualifying cranks up, not to mention the next version of the Gold Cup in 2013. Make no mistake, the supremacy the United States has enjoyed over Mexico and the rest of CONCACAF is over. We may never win the World Cup, but we can rule our little corner of the planet. It's time to get back there.