BY ADAM SERRANO
To say that the 2011 Gold Cup has been a turbluent ride for the Mexican National Team may be something of an understatement.
Five players including three starters left the team after testing positive for the substance Clembuterol. All the while, forward Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez has helped lead Mexico to victory time and time again while "El Tri" played to legions of loyal fans in their traveling tour across the United States. Through it all, the Mexicans have tallied 18 goals, going undefeated and are poised to repeat as CONCACAF Gold Cup Champions.
Now the Mexicans will prepare to take on their arch rivals, the United States in front of a decidedly pro Mexican crowd at the Rose Bowl. Although the team has undergone a great deal of turmoil during the tournament, longtime Mexico captain Rafael Marquez asserts that the team is ready for the Final.
"Despiet all the problems outside the field, this team is fine," said Marquez. "The objective is to win and afterward, the reporters can say what they want, but this is a new match and our team is feeling good before an important match."
Leading the charge for El Tri has been the play of Hernandez, who has scored a tournament high seven goals in a variety of different ways. For Mexico to earn their second consecutive Gold Cup, it will be vital for Mexico's midfield to find ways to create space and opportunities for Hernandez and strike partner Giovani Dos Santos.
This job will fall primarily to fleet-footed wingers Andres Guardado and Pablo Barrera who have caused headaches for opposing defenses throughout the tournament. Guardado (ankle) and left back Carlos Salcido (heel) remain injury question marks, but both asserted on Friday after Mexico's training session that they felt well enough to play in the match. While the Mexicans are loaded with weapons, the most important will be Hernandez, who refuses to state that he's anymore vital to El Tri's effort than any of his teammates.
“I’m not a rock star, I’m not an idol, I’m not a hero, I’m only a human being and I’m about to play in the most important game of my life,” said Hernández. “I don’t feel like I am more or less than anyone else, I’m just a person, who plays soccer and for that I’m very happy.”
The goal scoring prowess that Hernandez has developed will look to be the deciding factor for Mexico, who has frequently struggled to score goals against the Americans in the past. Since 2000, the Mexicans have struggled mightily against the Americans with a record of 4-10-2 in the last 16 meetings.
With the exception of the 2009 final, El Tri had developed a reputation of dominating controlling matches against the Americans, but eventually coming up short of victory. When questioned by a journalist about this disparity between play and results, Mexican head coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" De La Torre was quick to retort that for this edition of the Mexican national team, the past means nothing.
“Who says we’re not strong? You?” said a defiant De La Torre. “I don’t know about the past and I don’t care about it. The team has shown a lot of strength in this tournament and that’s what matters.”