The two teams that were supposed to make it to Saturday night's Gold Cup final have done so. The United States and Mexico will square off (9 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel) to decide the CONCACAF championship for the third straight time, having split the previous two meetings.
The U.S. is coming off a 1-0 win over Panama in the semifinals courtesy of Clint Dempsey's third goal of the tournament. He was assisted by Landon Donovan, who has taken on the unfamiliar role of substitute in the last two games. Mexico advanced to the final with a 2-0 win over Honduras by scoring twice in extra time. Javier Hernandez, the tournament's most dangerous player, scored his seventh goal in five games.
Hernandez, 23, scored 20 goals for Manchester United this past season -- his first in the English Premier League. In this tournament, Chicharito's seven strikes are the second-most in Gold Cup history. Luis Roberto Alves -- a.ka. "Zaguinho" -- scored 11 goals in the 1993 tournament (although he scored seven of those in a 9-0 whooping of Martinque).
The U.S. will have to contend with more than Chicharito and the other 10 Mexicans on the field Saturday night. Mexico's fan base is sure to come out in full force to the sold-out Rose Bowl in Southern California -- a haven for Mexican fans. The U.S. hasn't faced Mexico in Southern California in 11 years -- a game that saw Landon Donovan make his first international appearance. With his second-half substitution against Panama, Donovan is now alone in second place on the United States' all-time caps leaderboard with 135, behind Cobi Jones (164).
The U.S. is 15-31-11 all time against their border rivals to the south. That record is a little misleading, however, as the Americans won the first meeting in 1934, but didn't win again until 1980 -- a winless streak of 24 games. Since their memorable meeting in the Round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup, which the U.S. won, 2-0, the Americans are 5-3-2 against Mexico.
So who will head coach Bob Bradley throw out onto the field in his most important game since facing Ghana in the 2010 World Cup? It's hard to imagine him mixing up the back line, which has posted three straight shutouts. Goalkeeper Tim Howard and defenders Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra and the speedy Eric Lichaj all should be out there for this diffcult assignment.
Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones likely will be paired together again in the defensive midfield in Bradley's 4-2-3-1. In front of them, I expect Donovan to return to the starting lineup -- perhaps playing a central role underneath Juan Agudelo at forward. We're still waiting for Agudelo to have a breakout game. Saturday night would be lovely timing for the teenager. Clint Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya should return to their spots on the wings, though Dempsey could easily switch roles with Donovan.
Substitution possibilities include Freddy Adu, Sacha Kljestan and Maurice Edu.
The United States, despite being the "home" team and owning a 10-4-2 record against its rivals since 2000, is surely the underdog in this meeting based on recent form. Mexico has outscored opponents 18-2 in five games while the U.S. has scored seven goals and allowed two (both in a loss to Panama).
A berth in the 2013 Confederations Cup is on the line. Will the U.S. pull off the upset and claim its fifth Gold Cup title -- tying Mexico in the process? Or will Mexico's hot streak continue? We'll see in about eight hours. Enjoy.