Mexico's 'other' Dos Santos emerges to haunt U.S. in Gold Cup final
CHICAGO -- The image of Giovani dos Santos taunting Tim Howard with intricate control, coaxing the ball back out of his reach and then lifting the most delicate of lofted shots into the top corner in the 2011 Gold Cup final is etched onto the collective consciousness of Mexico fans.
That was the last time these two countries met in a Gold Cup final. Eight years on, and with Giovani not on Mexico's squad, it was brother Jonathan dos Santos' turn to steal the show and rob Mexico's bitter rival, the United States, of the CONCACAF title by scoring the only goal of the 2019 final in a 1-0 win.
L.A. Galaxy's Jonathan is known more for his work rate, smart passing and technique than his flair, but he came up big for Mexico to provide an entertaining game's definitive moment.
"I'm happy with how things have worked out," Dos Santos told reporters after the game. "Everything comes in its own good time. I'm thankful to have the trust of the coach, which is very important. The team showed personality.
"It's time to celebrate, we defeated a great opponent today, the United States also had a good tournament."
Dos Santos only played 35 minutes at the World Cup in Russia last year, but has become an important part of Martino's Gold Cup-winning team.
The 29-year-old has played in a more advanced role for Mexico under Gerardo "Tata" Martino than he does for the Galaxy and latched on to a fine back-heeled pass to steer a left-footed shot under the crossbar and into the goal. It was a goal of real quality, and it was deserved after a much-improved second-half performance from El Tri.
This felt like the moment that Jonathan finally stepped out of the shadow of his brother Giovani -- who was the talking point in the Mexican sports press on Saturday after he signed for Club America.
But aside from winning the tournament, the secondary mission of this summer for El Tri was fueling increasing competition for places and expanding the player pool for when the likes of Hector Herrera, Hirving Lozano, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Jesus "Tecatito" Corona and Miguel Layun come back into the fold, having missed out for differing reasons.
And that too has been accomplished. For example, removing Jonathan from the starting XI will be tough, but Martino stressed there is plenty of competition, which has to be a positive moving forward.
"When I arrived at the Mexican national team, Jonathan was the first player I spoke to," Martino said. "I had the advantage of having coached him at Barcelona, I know his qualities and what he can bring to the national team.
"He has a tough battle, because there is Carlitos Rodriguez doing well, Hector Herrera is now at Atletico Madrid and so I could have some doubts."
Rodolfo Pizarro was arguably Mexico's best player, coming in from the left wing in the first half and the right in the second. The Monterrey player revealed earlier this summer that there is a chance he goes to Europe and there was nothing from Sunday's performance to make you believe that he wouldn't succeed. He's another who will be difficult to shake out of the starting team.
L.A. Galaxy winger Uriel Antuna didn't have a great game against the United States, but he showed enough with his four goals and two assists this Gold Cup to suggest he can develop into a national team regular in time.
Add to those names the likes of Jesus Gallardo, Roberto Alvarado, Edson Alvarez, Rodriguez and Erick Gutierrez, and the future is starting to shape up, even if Martino has been careful to suggest that the generational change won't come overnight and that the door is open to the absentees, aside from Carlos Vela.
"The change that we are carrying out is logical, young players start to appear and they have fit in well," Martino said. "When you win a title, you earn confidence."
Finally, this was an important night for Martino on an individual level. The Argentine is a rationalist when he speaks to the press, saying after the game that he'd have been satisfied with how his first six months have gone with El Tri whatever the result had been against the United States.
Martino will believe it. Badges sold at the club shop at Newell's Old Boys in his native Rosario bear Martino's face and the slogan "Nothing happens to us by chance." But after going through the agony of losing two Copa America finals with Argentina on penalties, as well as another with Paraguay, finally winning an international tournament had its impact on him.
"I was emotional because it was my first international title," Martino said, before hanging his tone. "But personally, it doesn't have any impact [on the future]. The most important thing is the path we are on.
"We have to celebrate tonight and then start to organize the second half of the year."