The United States jumped out to an early lead, but Mexico stormed back with four unanswered goals to claim the 2011 Gold Cup title in front of a sellout crowd of 93,420 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
Coming into the match, there were quite a few lineup issues surrounding the Mexico team, with both Carlos Salcido and Andres Guardado questionable due to lingering injuries. Both players ended up starting for El Tri, and the much bigger surprise ended up being the lineup sheet from the U.S. In a bold strategic shift by manager Bob Bradley, Freddy Adu moved into the starting eleven, and striker Juan Agudelo began the game on the bench.
With both teams struggling to produce goals in the previous round, a low-scoring affair in the final would have been no surprise. Instead, fans in the Rose Bowl were treated to an exciting back and forth battle, with four goals scored in the opening period.
The U.S. landed the first blow just eight minutes in. After weathering an aggressive start from Mexico, Michael Bradley used his head to knock in a corner kick from Freddy Adu in the 8th minute. Fifteen minutes later the U.S. struck again, courtesy of some great interplay between Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. Dempsey set up Donovan in the box, and the U.S. star, back in the starting lineup for the first time in two games, finished coolly for the 2-0 lead. After struggling to put together solid first half performances through most of the tournament, the U.S. were finally off on the right foot. They couldn't have asked for a better start to the match. Mexico conceded just two goals in five Gold Cup games, but now had suddenly matched that total in just 23 minutes against the U.S.
The U.S. team's run on top would prove to be short-lived, though. A key moment to the switch in fortunes actually occurred earlier in the match, when right back Steve Cherundolo suffered an ankle injury. Unable to continue, the American defender was subbed off and Jonathan Bornstein was brought on. Bornstein, who spent the last season with UANL Tigres in the Mexican Primera, had yet to see a minute of action in the Gold Cup and it showed.
Less than five minutes after Donovan’s goal, Mexico struck back. Barrera found a gaping open area on the U.S. backline, and with an excellent long pass from Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, finished to finally put Mexico on the board.
In the 36th minute, Mexico would grab the equalizer. Giovani Dos Santos worked along the right side of the box, and sent a sharp ball across the goal. With the U.S. unable to clear, Andres Guardado slid in and beat Tim Howard to the loose ball. It trickled in off Guardado's foot to bring things back to even on the scoreboard.
Just as Mexico got back in the game, they were forced to make a second change. Earlier in the half, manager Jose Manuel de la Torre brought in Jorge Torres Nilo for Salcido, and late in the half he was forced to make another defensive move. A few minutes from the break captain Rafael Marquez injured his hamstring, and had to be replaced by Hector Reynoso, who took the field for his Mexico national team debut.
The U.S. team's shakeups on the backline proved to be more costly. Four minutes of second half play was all that was needed for Mexico to finally grab the lead. El Tri made quick work of the U.S. backline, with Guardado freeing Barrera, who scored his second goal of the game to give Mexico the 3-2 advantage. Barely into the second half and it was already an entirely new match.
Dempsey tried to turn things around in the 59th minute, but his blast from the top of the box deflected off the crossbar. With the Americans wearing down, and Mexico continuing to push forward, it appeared that a fourth goal for El Tri was imminent. In the 76th minute, Dos Santos added his name to the scoresheet. With Tim Howard out of goal diving for the ball, Dos Santos was able to maintain possession, dribble back, and unleash a perfectly placed chip shot towards the open net. The shot fell expertly into the upper left corner, just above the head of a leaping Eric Lichaj, for the final 4-2 margin. It was a remarkable display of individual skill, and a fitting way for Mexico to cap their 2011 Gold Cup run.
When on their game, Mexico's attack proved to be unstoppable. El Tri finished their Gold Cup campaign with a total of 22 goals scored, and put an exclamation point on their impressive run with four unanswered against the U.S. The U.S. will certainly be discouraged by their performance, and their inability to take advantage of an early lead, but Mexico proved to be the better team on this night. It was a deserved title, and with the Gold Cup trophy in hand, Mexico (at least for the time being) have rightfully staked their claim as the best team in the CONCACAF region.