Site of Saturday’s CONCACAF Cup, The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Califrnia, has been host to some of American soccer’s biggest triumphs.
It held the U.S. MNT’s first World Cup victory in 44 years – an unforgettable 2-1 win against Colombia in 1994, the WNT’s 1999 World Cup Final win against China and the men’s repatriation of the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup thanks to a 2-0 win in the final against Costa Rica.
While it’s seen great moments, it also played host to a match most U.S. fans would rather forget. Nine years on from the 2002 win against Costa Rica, the MNT returned to Pasadena to play for the same Gold Cup trophy against heated rivals Mexico.
While the game was in the United States, the vast majority of the 93,420 in attendance were behind El Tri. Despite the disadvantage in support, the U.S. ran out to a dream start as Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan scored to give the team a 2-0 lead inside the first 23 minutes.
Micheal Bradley celebrates with Landon Donovan after the pair had put the MNT up 2-0 in the first half of the 2011 Gold Cup final.
“We started that game off really well – you couldn’t ask for a better start up 2-0,” remembered MNT midfielder Alejandro Bedoya.
Just as the MNT made it look easy to go up two goals early on, Mexico made coming back to equalize look just as simple as Pablo Barrera and Andres Guardado pulled their side level by the 36thgminute. Locked 2-2 at the break, Mexico fed off the crowd as Barrera put El Tri ahead 3-2 in the 50th minute before Giovanni dos Santos’ 76th minute chip confirmed the result for Mexico.
“We just bottled it,” continued Bedoya. “If we could have that start again, I would take it in a heartbeat. It’s just about finishing the game off.”
No stranger to big matches, MNT captain Michael Bradley said even though four years have passed since the match, the game and El Tri’s celebration afterwards still sticks in his memory.
“Any time you lose a final, you don’t forget that quickly,” Bradley told ussoccer.com. “I think while it was a great game that day – both teams went at it – in the end, they were able to make a few more plays than we did and when you have to watch your big rival lift a trophy, that stays with you.”
“That was tough,” agreed Bedoya. “It was tough to just be a player and having to wait on the field at The Rose Bowl, standing there and seeing them walking across that stage, celebrating on our home soil… it left us all with a bitter taste in our mouths.”
Alejandro Bedoya challenges Gerardo Torrado in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
While the memory of 2011 still stings, with a ticket to Russia on the line, Bedoya said he’ll use the memory as motivation for Saturday’s CONCACAF Cup.
And with the way the U.S. fan base has grown with groups like the American Outlaws leading the charge, Bedoya expects a different atmosphere Saturday.
“I remember there were a lot of Mexican fans in attendance,” Bedoya said. “In four years, I think a lot has changed in terms of soccer in this country. I don’t think we’ll be seeing those same numbers at The Rose Bowl this year. I think our fans will come out in full support and that’s all we can hope for. The rest just comes down to us playing and doing whatever it takes to win, going all out and knowing that this result means a lot to so many people everywhere.”
The game certainly means a lot to Bradley. In the buildup to the match last week, the U.S. captain chose a message about the Mexico match to debut the public setting on his previously private Instagram account.
Games against Mexico are just different. There's no other way to put it. The passion. The colors. The respect. The hate. Growing up these are the games I dreamed of playing in. When the lights come on brightest. Azteca. Columbus. Jeonju. The Rose Bowl. The history is all there. And on 10/10 we get the chance to write a new chapter. We want you to be there. We need you to be there. #OneNationOneTeam
A photo posted by Michael Bradley (@michaelbr4dley) on
With CONCACAF announcing tickets for the match sold out on Monday, fans have certainly recognized the magnitude of the occasion and according to Bradley, outside of the World Cup, there are few international matches that will compare to Saturday’s game.
“Games against Mexico don’t come around every day,” he said of the post. “Games against Mexico that have so much on the line don’t either. You can play friendlies, you can play games where nothing matters, but in a game like this, with the way everything has been built up, it means everything. The atmosphere is going to be amazing. It’s two good teams who want to win, who want to go at each other and I think it’s set up to be a great night.”