Nearly 60 minutes in, Kyle Beckerman felt good about the way he and his US teammates were playing. Maybe they were defending more than they had hoped, but playing Mexico in a final, in front of a raucous El Tri crowd, you manage the game.
And as the game neared the hour mark, Beckerman believed a US team comprised of many players who were getting their first chance with the national team was managing.
But in the blink of an eye there was a collision in the box. As he was receiving the ball near the penalty spot, Giovani dos Santos backed into Jay Heaps. There were elbows flailing and jerseys being tugged. And then there was a whistle. A penalty was called.
Gerardo Torrado stepped to the spot and hammered the ball into the net past Troy Perkins and a half-hour later, Beckerman and his teammates could not believe what happened. The game's final moments became a blur. The US tried to respond. Maybe tried too hard. And Mexico made them pay four times to the delight of their fans.
Mexico 5, USA 0.
"When Mexico took a lead, it played into their hands," Beckerman told MLSsoccer.com in a recent phone interview. "We had good chances to go 1-0 in that game, but didn't take those chances. Right after Mexico scored, we had one really good chance to tie the score. We pushed really hard, probably too hard, to tie the game up.
"Looking back, we needed to keep our cool, weather that storm, not fall further behind and see if we get one off a set piece or get one late in the game. Our inexperience got the best of us. They sat back, countered and scored some great goals. And the crowd, it was like we were playing in Guadalajara."
Four years later, Beckerman, along with Clarence Goodson and Stuart Holden, who were also a part of the US team in the 2009 Gold Cup, is looking to make amends.
The Real Salt Lake midfielder is now a 31-year-old veteran trying to earn a permanent spot on the national team roster and a trip to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. When he thinks back on the 2009 Gold Cup, he doesn't just think of the loss to Mexico.
He thinks of the way a team that was put together for the tournament in the aftermath of the US team's run to the Confederations Cup final a month earlier, came together during their month together. He remembers scoring the equalizer against Panama in the quarterfinals, setting the stage for Kenny Cooper's game-winning penalty in extra time. He remembers a gritty 2-0 victory over Honduras in the semifinals, before 55,000 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
"It was a fun tournament," Beckerman said. "We were all talking about it before this Gold Cup started. We talked about it, and came in hoping to do one better."
Like 2009, this Gold Cup is a test of US depth. With World Cup qualifying still ongoing and many key players beginning their preseasons in Europe, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has assembled a group of players looking to make a lasting impression that could lead to minutes in the remaining qualifiers, or even a ticket to Brazil.
"It's really exciting to be a part of," Beckerman said. "It's like the World Cup is close by but it's still far away. I'm just keeping it one game and one practice at a time. I'm trying to keep my head down. I'm just going to keep at it, and hopefully the call comes."
The next step comes Wednesday night in Arlington, Texas (7 pm ET, Fox Soccer/UniMas, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), where the US will try to do what it did four years ago in the semis and eliminate a Honduran team that is always a stubborn foe. If the US can take care of business at Cowboys Stadium and Mexico can eliminate Panama, the stage will be set for redemption. And the chance to raise the Gold Cup.
"It would be an amazing feeling to win it all," Beckerman said. "I think we have a stronger team this time, but the memories we have from 2009 are great memories. We had a group of players with very limited national team experience and we made a run at it. We kind of ran out of gas at the end and got a little undisciplined. A really good Mexican team made us pay. But I think we learned from the experience."
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