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U.S. beats Mexico in final of Gold Cup

The come-from-behind 2-1 victory is fueled by second-half goals from Donovan and Feilhaber.

June 25, 2007|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — Benny Feilhaber, the youngster from Irvine who left UCLA early to seek his soccer fortunes in Germany, scored the goal of his career Sunday, sending an audacious 23-yard volley dipping and swerving into the back of the Mexico net to give the United States a 2-1 victory at sold-out Soldier Field in the championship game of the 2007 Gold Cup.

The strike was but one memorable moment in a match that will go down as one of the most dramatic in the long and contentious series involving the countries.

The U.S. fell behind, tied the score, got the game-winner from Feilhaber, saw Brian Ching hit the post and DaMarcus Beasley hit the crossbar with an open net yawning, and still had enough to hold Mexico at bay, that effort highlighted with a stupendous late-in-the-game save by goalkeeper Tim Howard.

With the victory, the U.S. not only successfully defended the Gold Cup title it won in 2005 but also qualified for the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, where it will meet the champions of Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania, as well as the host nation, which will play host to the World Cup the next year.

Feilhaber, 22, was the hero of the day, but another Southern Californian, Landon Donovan, not only tied the score with his fourth penalty kick of the tournament in the 62nd minute but also tied two records in the process. It was the 34th goal of Donovan's national team career, tying Eric Wynalda atop the all-time U.S. list, and it was Donovan's 12th in Gold Cup tournaments, tying the mark held by retired Mexico striker Luis Roberto Alves, better known as Zague.

The only downbeat note came after the final whistle, when Mexico winger Andres Guardado, who had put his team in front in the 44th minute, had to be briefly hospitalized for a possible concussion after complaining of dizziness after a second-half collision with U.S. defender Jonathan Spector, who also suffered a slight concussion on the play.

By then, Mexico had lost its all-time leading scorer, forward Jared Borgetti, to a possible hamstring strain. Both Borgetti and Guardado were judged well enough by evening, however, to be on the Mexican team's flight Sunday night to Venezuela to participate in the Copa America tournament that starts Tuesday and will include the U.S.

For the U.S., now a four-time Gold Cup winner just like Mexico, the highlight was Feilhaber's goal off a headed clearance by Mexico in the 73rd minute. The shot drew differing views. Donovan, who will return to the Galaxy today while Feilhaber heads for Venezuela, had one view.

"I was wide and a little bit right," Donovan said, "and as the ball came out, I was like, 'Hey, man, don't shoot it.' Then I was like, 'Oh, OK. That worked.'

"If you don't try it, you don't score. Maybe it's one in a thousand that you score that goal, but he tried, so give him credit."

Ching saw it differently.

"It was a big game, and there were nerves," he said. "I mean, look at Benny. I don't think he had the best first half, but then once he settled in, he banged the shot of his life."

Said Feilhaber, who plays for Hamburg SV in the German Bundesliga: "The first thing I was thinking of as the ball was coming in the air

"I knew as soon as I hit it that it was going in. It felt great."

The victory was the U.S. team's ninth in the last 12 games against Mexico since 2000 and extended its unbeaten streak on home soil against its southern neighbor to nine games (8-0-1).

Donovan, comfortably fielding questions in English and Spanish, said this year's Gold Cup success was even more satisfying than that of 2005, when the U.S. defeated Panama on penalty kicks in the final at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.

"It's awesome," he said. "It's weird because you get in the game and you almost forget it's a final because it's just Mexico again.

"But we realized at halftime that this was the last 45 minutes, that it's not like you're in [World Cup] qualifying and you have more games. This is it."

In front of a crowd of 60,000, Mexico took the lead just before halftime when Nery Castillo got around the U.S. defense on the right, beating defender Oguchi Onyewu, and sent a cross to the far post, where an unmarked Guardado slammed the ball into the roof of the net.

The goal ended a barren spell of 797 minutes in which Mexico had failed to score on U.S. soil.

The U.S. came out with a renewed sense of purpose in the second half, with Ricardo Clark taking the place of Pablo Mastroeni. The Americans pulled level when Ching drew a penalty kick after turning inside Mexico defender Jonny Magallon and going to the ground when contact was made.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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