The postgame awards ceremony lasted almost as long as the game that preceded it.
After all, there was confetti to spray, and fireworks to set off, and there were T-shirts, medals and trophies to hand out. And no one on Mexico’s national soccer team really wanted that to end.
Because by rallying to beat the U.S., 4-2, in Saturday’s Gold Cup final before a sellout crowd of 93,420 at the Rose Bowl, Mexico did more than merely win the tournament for the second consecutive time, and extend its recent dominance over its neighbor to the north.
No, what Mexico had really done was persevere. And that was worth celebrating.
“There were a lot of things that were out of our hands. And it could have distracted us,” said Mexico Coach Jose Manuel de la Torre, who made his debut with the national team only four months ago. “But the players remained very calm. In fact, the circumstances made us stronger.”
On the first day of the tournament, Mexico lost a player to illness. One match later five more were suspended after testing positive for a banned substance, leaving Mexico to finish group play six men down.
And then, less than a third of the way into the final, they seemed in danger of being run out of the Rose Bowl. But they rallied once more on two goals from Pablo Barrera and one each from Andres Guardado and Giovani Dos Santos.
With Freddy Adu setting up Michael Bradley for the first goal and Landon Donovan scoring the second, the U.S. led, 2-0, having taken less than 24 minutes to score as many goals as Mexico had allowed in its previous five matches combined.
“We were worried, certainly,” said De la Torre, who also lost two starters to injury in the first half. “We didn’t want to get disorganized.”
As it turned out, the 2-0 deficit would last less than 15 minutes.
Mexico began its comeback when Javier Hernandez, accustomed to being the finisher, became the distributor, sending a through ball up the right side to Barrera, who beat U.S. keeper Tim Howard just inside the near post.
In was the first goal Howard had allowed in nearly four full games. But it wouldn’t be the last.
Seven minutes later Mexico took advantage of some confusion in the U.S. backline to tie the score when Eric Lichaj fumbled his chance to clear a Dos Santos shot, allowing Guardado to get just enough of his boot on the ball to get it across the goal line.
Mexico went ahead to stay early in the second half when Guardado chested down a loose ball just outside the penalty area and fed Barrera moving through the box to his right. From there Barrera had an open shot at the far post and he didn’t miss.
Dos Santos closed things out in the 76th minute. He dribbled in on Howard, and then, with the keeper crawling after him and swiping with his hands at the ball, Dos Santos retreated, spun and lifted a rainbow toward to the far post, where it dropped just over a leaping Lichaj and into the goal.
When the match was over Howard, frustrated and angry, stood alone in the front of the goal while the Mexicans gathered at midfield to begin their long celebration
“You walk away on a night like this,” Bradley said, “and you don’t have a good taste in your mouth.”
Times staff writer Matt Stevens contributed to this report.