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When second best is good enough

For me, the best result in soccer is “Everton defeats Liverpool.” The second best is “the U.S. defeats Mexico.” The latter was the result of today’s thrilling Gold Cup final (the North American championhip) in Chicago.
Mexico outplayed the U.S. in the first half, with Guardado rampant on the left flank. Late in the half, Mexico took a deserved lead when its right-winger skinned his defender and crossed for Guardado to slot home.
The U.S. came out with greater purpose and industry in the second half, but it took a penalty kick (cooly taken by Landon Donovan) to tie the match. A few minutes later, Benny Feilhaber gave us the lead with a wonder-strike from distance after a half-cleared corner kick.
The U.S. then turned on the style, striking the woodwork twice. At the other end, it took a fine save from Everton’s Tim Howard and a rejected penalty shout to preserve the win.
The match was remarkably clean for a U.S.-Mexico encounter. In fact, Mexico committed only six fouls. The Mexican keeper even refrained from a repeat of trying to trip U.S. players on their way to goal celebrations.
Though the U.S. won the tournament, we have lots of work to do. It took a terrible offside call to preserve our lead in the semi-final against Canada, and today’s match certainly could have gone either way. The U.S. is actually rebuilding, with long-time stalarts like Brian McBride and Claudio Reyna having retired from international soccer. In this tournament, Landon Donovan was the only U.S. player I would, without qualification, rate as world class.
But that just makes beating Mexico, a veteran team with at least four world class players including a captain who excels for Barcelona, even more fun.

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