PASADENA, Calif. — Just 23 minutes into Saturday’s Gold Cup final, Mexico players found themselves in a strange situation. Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan had already scored and the Americans surprisingly held a 2-0 lead.
But Mexico players said they never doubted their ability to come back.
“We knew it was within us,” Mexico’s Israel Castro said. “If they had scored twice, we knew we could score two or more. We had chances, we were controlling the ball and we never dropped our shoulders.”
El Tri roared from behind, scored two goals in seven minutes to equalize, then scored another two in a 26-minute stretch of the second half to seal the victory as Mexico walked away with a 4-2 victory and their second consecutive Gold Cup championship.
“It’s a rule in football — whether you are winning or losing, never lose your style,” Castro said. “[Winning] was the consequence.”
Mexico had faced adversity before. Five players were booted off the squad after the first Gold Cup match due to positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs. But the team sailed through the group stage unfazed, winning three games by a combined 14-1 score.
That they faced more challenges on Saturday and overcame them was testament to their mental strength as much as anything.
“Despite what was said off the field, the group stayed united,” Mexico and New York Red Bulls defender Rafa Márquez said. “It’s what we needed to have done — talk on the field and not pay attention to the garbage that was talked off of it. This is an experienced group, a lot of whom are in Europe despite being young. It’s a great process we have right now.”
However confident the players still felt after going down 2-0, there was concern that the team would lose focus — which could have led to more unfavorable situations.
“There was some worry because we didn’t want to lose our discipline,” Mexico coach José Manuel de la Torre said. “They surprised us with the first goal, the second goal they caught us a bit. Fortunately, the team was able to turn things around.”
In the 29th minute, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández slipped a ball to Pablo Barrera, who buried his attempt past Tim Howard to get Mexico back in the game. When Andrés Guardado’s deflected ball trickled across the goal line in the 36th minute, Mexico’s comeback victory was well on its way.
Keeping their wits about them — something previous incarnations of the Mexican team seemingly never managed against the US — made a difference.
“The team was solid, patient,” Mexico’s Gerardo Torrado said. “There wasn’t much to be said but there wasn’t much time to say anything anyway. The team knew that a comeback was in us so we weren’t anxious and that was beneficial.”
Barrera gave Mexico the lead five minutes into the second half with a well-placed shot from the right side of the box, while Giovani dos Santos iced the match with a terrific show of skill, evading Howard and placing the ball in the upper corner from about 15 yards out.
“It was a beautiful final and luckily we were able to finish it off with a victory,” Mexico defender Carlos Salcido said. “We wanted it. We’d been working hard for it all tournament long, and how great that we reached our goal in the end.”
Perhaps most surprising was that Mexico scored four goals and Chicharito had none of them. But that hardly mattered to the Manchester United standout.
“It doesn’t matter who scores the goals,” Hernández said. “What matters is that we get the job done. Those are extras, nothing more. The important thing was to have won the tournament. Everyone deserves it. I’m never going to talk about myself. There are no individual accomplishments here.”