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How A Giovani Dos Santos Golazo Changed The Future Of Soccer In The U.S. And Mexico

The goal that qualified for Mexico for the 2014 World Cup was not scored by Graham Zusi in 2013. It was scored by Giovani Dos Santos in 2011.

Soccer in the United States is exemplified best by one word: transition. If there really is World Cup winning glory in the future of the United States Men’s National Team, then the current era must be considered its awkward years. U.S. Soccer is getting there, but it is often painfully clear that, as far as the country has come, it has so much further to go. 

The location of the 2011 Gold Cup Final was the the perfect embodiment of this transition. The Rose Bowl hosted the 1994 Men’s and 1999 Women’s World Cup Finals, some of the biggest events in United States soccer history, yet it is also the calling card of collegiate football and red-blooded American sporting passion. The culture of the Rose Bowl was that of the American sporting landscape, a perfect place for the United States to square off against its biggiest rival, Mexico.

That final could have been - no, should have been a watershed moment of American soccer success. Mexico had won only once on American soil in the past twelve years; Landon Donavan and Clint Dempsey were in their primes; and the USMNT was as strong as it had ever been. If there was ever a time for the United States to unapologetically state its intentions to the entire world, it was then. And for 23 minutes, it seemed as if that was exactly what would happen.

Things were going great. The U.S. had just scored off of a beautiful move culminating in an effortless Dempsey pass, perfectly weighted into the stride of Donovan, who rounded the keeper and slotted the ball home. 2-0. The crowd goes wild. Landon Donovan chicken walks in celebration. Glory was there for the taking, but Mexico had yet to have its say.

5 minutes after Landon Donovan’s theatrics, Mexico broke down the field and scored off of a quick counter attack. 8 minutes after that, Mexico sprinted down the field again, rifled a cross into the box, and Andres Guardado shoved the ball past Tim Howard. 2-2.

It is possible to do more than just win a game, to do more than just put the ball in the back of the net more times than the opponent. Some wins leave room for doubt in the mind of the loser as to whether their opponent is really better. The loser leaves the pitch with their pride wounded but relatively intact and they often refuse to believe that they were truly beaten:

Oh well, they just got a few lucky bounces, we are the more skilled team.

Look, we had more possession, and our play was much more fluid.

Well, you may have won, but we scored the better goals!  

Mexico did not win like that. They made sure everyone in the Rose Bowl that afternoon witnessed their greatness.

Not even five minutes into the second half, Mexico scored the best goal of the game yet: a perfectly executed curled shot to the far post by Pablo Barrera with the outside of his foot. Van Gogh couldn’t have painted a more perfectly arced finish, but the real masterpiece was yet to come. 

What Giovani Dos Santos did to the United States defense was disrespectful, embarrassing, and downright childish; it was quite possibly the best goal ever scored in the history of U.S.A. vs Mexico. 

As soon as that ball floated into the top corner of Tim Howard’s goal, the game was over. Don’t pay attention to the fact that there were still 14 minutes left on the clock. The only meaning that remained in the game resided in the heads of the Americans as they struggled to wrap their minds around what Dos Santos had just done to them. Mexico was, undisputedly, the better team.

The ramifications of this loss hit USMNT head coach Bob Bradley the hardest. Going into the Gold Cup, Bradley was under contract to coach the national team through the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but getting out-classed by Mexico in such complete and spectacular fashion put doubt in the minds of the American powers that be that Bradley could elevate the U.S. to the next level. He was released from duty a month and three days after that loss to Mexico.

Thus, the way was paved for Jurgen Klinsmann to step into the U.S. managerial void, and this in and of itself turned the firing of Bradley into a blessing in disguise for both the U.S. and Mexico.

Winning the Gold Cup was also the start of a bright and sunny run of form for Mexico, who would go 12-3-5 over their next 20 matches. But, despite wins against Brazil, the Ivory Coast, and Costa Rica, that record proved itself to be fool’s gold during the final round of qualification for the World Cup. The end game of Mexico’s underwhelming 1-5-3 record in that final round saw the nation rescued by the most unlikely of rivals: the United States. 

On the final match day of the qualifying rounds, Mexico was losing 2-1 to Costa Rica and was in severe danger of missing out on the World Cup. If Mexico lost, they needed Panama to tie or lose to the United States. Mexico’s hopes were circling the drain: Panama was leading the U.S. 2-1 going into stoppage time.  

Quite simply, Mexico wouldn’t have made it into the World Cup had it not been for two stoppage time goals from the U.S to beat Panama 3-2. Furthermore, those two goals wouldn’t have been scored if the coach of the U.S. was still Bob Bradley instead of Jurgen Klinsmann. 

Bradley is a notoriously cautious and conservative head coach, and that night the U.S. did not need to beat Panama, because they had already qualified for the World Cup. It is highly improbable that a Bradley-led U.S. squad would have had the mentality necessary to score two stoppage time goals in a meaningless game. 

For all of the flack that the Mexican media gave their national team for almost crashing out of the running for Brazil 2014, it was their very same national team that forced the release of Bob Bradley and opened the door for Jurgen Klinsmann and his attack-minded philosophy to inspire the U.S. to victory against Panama years later. 

That Dos Santos golazo didn’t just win Mexico the Gold Cup, it arguably got Mexico into the World Cup as well.

Even though it took years to see the proof, the 2011 Gold Cup Final was indeed a watershed moment, but for none of the reasons that were most discussed at the time. If the U.S. won, it is entirely possible that Bradley would have coached the USMNT in Brazil. That means no Jurgen Klinsmann, no attacking philosophy, fewer multi-national players, and, all things considered, a much more boring and much less successful national team.

So Giovani Dos Santos, with all due respect to the commentators in the second video, and on behalf of Mexico and USMNT Fans everywhere: We love you, we love you forever and ever.

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