Martino earns first international trophy with Mexico

Jonathan dos Santos (L) and Uriel Antuna celebrate after dos Santos scored against Team USA in the Gold Cup final on July 7. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Jonathan dos Santos (L) and Uriel Antuna celebrate after dos Santos scored against Team USA in the Gold Cup final on July 7. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images) /

Jonathan Dos Santos scored the only goal of the game vs the United States to give Mexico their 8th Gold Cup trophy.

What a script was written for the 2019 Gold Cup! El Tri and Team USA were guided to the final by new coaches and both teams featured rosters filled with talented young players as the two Concacaf giants transition toward the future. The scene was Chicago’s Soldier Field with 62,493 fans – most rooting for Mexico – in full throat.

Team Mexico came away with the win, but the first half was dominated by the United States who generated three clear scoring chances. In minute 5, U.S. star Christian Pulisic got past Carlos Salcedo but Mexico goalie Guillermo Ochoa made the save.

Two minutes later, striker Jozy Altidore chased down a long pass from Tim Ream, spun defender Hector Moreno around and got in clean on Ochoa who had come out off his line. Altidore’s left-footed shot trickled wide of the right post. The two quick chances quieted Mexican fans in the stadium who wondered if Mexico would have their backs to the wall all night.

Soon thereafter, Gregg Berhalter’s team created another chance when a miscommunication between Moreno and Ochoa allowed former Xolos star Paul Arriola to sneak in past Salcedo and swipe the bouncing ball. Arriola was unable to gather it cleanly, however, and his sharp-angled shot hit the side netting.

The second half saw the U.S. create a few more chances early on. A header by Jordan Morris was cleared off the line by Andres Guardado and a shot by sub Christian Roldan was blocked by Moreno.

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No doubt, Team USA was disappointed with the result, but the young roster – especially Pulisic and midfielder Weston McKennie – offers considerable upside.

As for Mexico, coach Gerardo Martino silenced his critics by winning a tournament that he characterized as “not much of a prize if you win it but a real punishment if you don’t win.” Martino won his first international trophy in his first chance since taking the job in January.

He had to overcome frenzied media coverage leading up to the tournament as Mexican reporters focused on the absence of star players, while criticizing Martino’s roster selection. The tournament revealed a new set of playing cards for Mexico and his team surely did not disappoint. Fans now know that Mexico has plenty of talent in its back pocket.

The stand-out performances of Mexico’s holding midfielder Edson Alvarez and winger Rodolfo Pizarro deserve significant praise, while Jonathan Dos Santos scored the only goal of the game. Mexico gained control of the match early in the second half by controlling the midfield and Pizarro switched from the left to the right side where he found more freedom to create.

Dos Santos opened the play that led to the goal. He collected a pass in midfield and found Pizarro who looked for space down the right channel, dribbling away from a double-team. Dos Santos continued his run toward the box, losing his marker as Pizarro fed Raul Jimenez who controlled the pass with a defender on his back. Raul saw dos Santos running free and executed a quick back-heel pass that dos Santos trundled into the net from 16 meters.

With the win, Mexico earned its eighth Gold Cup title in nine finals appearances.

El Tri will have the rest of the summer off until September’s FIFA dates which will include a game against Lio Messi and Argentina. It will be interesting to see how many European-based players are invited to Martino’s next training camp.