Gold Cup: El Tri scrapes past Canada, Team USA up next

Héctor Herrera (#16) watches his shot in minute 90+8 get past Canada keeper Maxime Crépeau. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Héctor Herrera (#16) watches his shot in minute 90+8 get past Canada keeper Maxime Crépeau. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
El Tri, US, Gold Cup semis
Gyasi Zardes (left) scores the game-winner for Team USA against Qatar in the Gold Cup semifinals. The win sends the U.S. to the final vs Mexico. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images) /

Just as predicted, right? A Mexico-USA grudge match in the Gold Cup Final. El Tri gets a chance to defend its title and exact a small measure of revenge after losing to the Stars-and-Stripes in the Nations League Final.

But the Clash of the Concacaf Titans was nearly scuttled by the upstarts.

For long stretches of the Gold Cup semifinals, it seemed perfectly reasonable to assume that we could have had a Qatar vs Canada match-up in the Final. In fact, maybe we should have.

Unfortunately, Qatar missed a penalty kick and USA sub Gyasi Zardes punched in a late winner, while El Tri got an injury-time goal from Héctor Herrera to eke past a scrappy Canadian side. And Concacaf officials breathed a sigh of relief.

Super-subs team up at the death

In the first semifinal, Qatar outplayed Team USA in the first half, outshooting the Americans 13-3 and creating chance after chance, twice denied by brilliant Zack Turned saves.

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Gregg Berhalter’s men steadied themselves in the second half and 4 minutes before time, Zardes got his boot on a lovely pass from Nicholas Gioacchini in minute 86, securing passage into Sunday’s Final.

Gioacchini had only entered the game 5 minutes earlier, and his patience and poise on the ball inside the box lifted the Americans into the Final for the third straight Gold Cup and a record 12th time overall.

The young U.S. squad persevered, overcoming the first-half jitters to limit Qatar’s chances down the stretch until the two subs made their mark.

El Tri pushed to the limit

Mexico continued its uninspiring run at the Copa Oro, spraying passes, drifting out of position, loafing back on defense (looking at you, “Chaka”), squandering a penalty (inexplicably allowing defender Carlos Salcedo to take the spot kick), and just generally playing as if Canada was supposed to roll over and concede.

El Tri, US, Gold Cup semis
Orbelin Pineda (center) rushes to embrace Jona dos Santos after converting a first-half penalty kick. Dos Santos was playing with a heavy heart after his father died earlier in the day. (Photo by AARON M. SPRECHER/AFP via Getty Images) /

The Canadians understandably felt aggrieved after a late first-half penalty was awarded upon video review. “Les Rouges” started out the second half on the front foot, finding the equalizer thanks to a bit of individual brilliance by Tajon Buchanan. The goal by the 22-year-old New England Revolution star was the first allowed by El Tri in the tournament.

Mexico did not immediately respond even after a very questionable penalty was given (also on video review) and the Canucks maintained the pressure, nearly taking the lead in minute 77. Buchanon made a nifty run across the top of the box and found and unmarked Theo Corbeanu on the right side. Corbeanu lifted a chip shot destined for the far post but El Tri goalie Alfredo Talavera just managed to get his right mitt on the ball and swat it to safety.

With only minutes remaining in regulation time, the ugly homophobic chant still popular among some Mexican fans forced a stoppage in play. The result was 7 minutes of added time, and El Tri needed every second.

As the clock ticked past 90 minutes, El Tri finally woke up, putting together its most dangerous sequence of the entire night. Canadian keeper Maxime Crépau made a stand-out save on a point-blank header by sub Rodolfo Pizarro and Héctor Moreno got a shot on net from the ensuing corner kick.

Then came a bit of magic. Nine minutes into added time, Pizarro flicked a back-heel pass into the box to an overlapping Erick Gutiérrez who looked to Rogelio Funes Mori but the striker’s attempt to turn before gaining possession allowed Stephen Eustaquio to break up the pass. Unfortunately, the clearance fell right to Pizarro who advanced toward the touch line. Then, as three Canadians converged on him, the Inter Miami star zipped a pass across the face of goal to Héctor Herrera waiting just outside the box above the far post. Herrera thumped a low left-footer that wrong-footed Crépau and El Tri was finally able to celebrate.

Thursday’s results set up a Mexico-USA Gold Cup final, the seventh such meeting between the bitter Concacaf rivals. El Tri has won five of the previous six meetings and boasts the most Gold Cup titles (eight – the USA has six).

Next. El Tri: Three things from Olympics group stage. dark

Sunday’s final will be played in Allegiant Stadium outside Las Vegas, Nevada.