GlobeBull: Long, USMNT Come Up Short Against Mexico in Gold Cup Final

So close, but so far.

The United States Men’s National Team handled their Gold Cup competition pretty easily during the last month. They allowed only one goal, and scoring 15 during their five-game run to the final. But a superior Mexican side clipped the Stars and Stripes. In front of a sold out crowd in Chicago, Mexico defeated the USMNT 1-0.

Gregg Berhalter’s starting XI was unchanged from the semifinal match against Jamaica. It featured seven MLS players, including New York Red Bulls defender, Aaron Long.

The US came out very strong the opening 15 minutes.  They had a set game plan that attempted to systematically catch Mexico open in the midfield. This passing map shows what they tried to do (Long is #23):

The team passed the ball back to either centerback, Long or Matt Miazga, or back to keeper Zack Steffen. As Mexico chased the ball upfield, the USMNT looked for Michael Bradley in the midfield, or Jozy Altidore up top. This worked during the first half and even though Mexico controlled the possession, the US had the better scoring chances.

In the 5th minute, Zack Steffen’s long ball found Altidore backing his defender in. As the ball bounced, Altidore hit a well timed pass to a streaking Christian Pulisic. Pulisic ran past Carlos Salcedo into the box but Guillermo Ochoa cut the angle, and saved Pulisic’s low shot.

Two minutes later, Altidore received a hail mary pass from Tim Ream. Altidore crossed up Héctor Moreno at the top of the box and was in on goal, but booted the ball wide with his left foot. It would be the US’s best opportunity all match. After a lot of exciting back and forth, the two best CONCACAF teams would stay even 0-0 into halftime.

The second half was a bit of a different story. Mexico controlled possession and keep the US on their heels for most of it. However, in the 51st minute, Jordan Morris got a free header off a Pulisic corner, beating Ochoa to the far post. But Andrés Guardado was on the line to save the day with a header of his own to keep them game scoreless.

Mexico found the breakthrough in the 73rd minute. Rodolfo Pizarro found Raúl Jiménez at the top of the box, who back heeled a well weighted pass into the stride of LA Galaxy’s Jonathan dos Santos. Dos Santos would hit a lefty shot off the bottom of the bar to send the 80% Mexican crowd into a frenzy. Mexico wouldn’t look back as they were able to keep ball control and leave as Gold Cup champions.

Long took home his own accolade, being named to the Gold Cup Best XI with teammates Bradley and Pulisic.

Long started in five of the team’s six match during the Gold Cup, playing 450 minutes and allowing only two goals. The reigning MLS Defender of the Year’s place in the Best XI was highly deserved.

Long and the rest of his teammates return to club duty. The Red Bulls tied Atlanta 3-3 earlier in the day and now set their sights to the NY Derby on Sunday evening, reuniting the best defense in MLS last season. He has not played for the Red Bull since his injury in May against the Montreal Impact.

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

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