This is what we've been waiting for. For the third time in as many tournaments, the USA and Mexico will meet in the Gold Cup final (Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA - 9PM EST - Fox Soccer Channel/Univision). To say that this final was expected is like saying my Dad's Powerball lotto ticket is going to lose this week. It's a shocker when this final doesn't happen (or when my Dad actually gets like $1 on ticket) but to say that the road these two teams took was a little rocky might be generous.
HOW WE GOT HERE: The USA struggled mightily in the group phase after a solid 2-0 win over Canada by losing 2-1 to Panama and beating Guadeloupe 1-0 in a game that was devoid of any finishing by the USA. But since those two games the USA has been much improved, stonewalling a red-hot Jamaica team 2-0 in the quarters before extracting revenge on a tough Panama squad 1-0 in the semis. Mexico on the other hand steamrolled to a 3-0 record in the group phase, but hasn't been at its best in the knockout rounds, giving up an early goal to Guatemala (a game they trailed 1-0 at the half) and needing extra time to find their finish touch in a 2-0 win over Honduras, who's probably the third best team in the region.
So does momentum mean anything going into this game? No, not in my opinion. Both teams are still playing well, they're both confident and this is a rivalry game. Neither of these teams like each other very much. Momentum and confidence and form go right out the window when the teams walk out onto the field.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
A trip to Brazil for the 2013 Confederations Cup, a World Cup tuneup that I covered in South Africa back in 2009. For those that remember, the USA beat Spain in the semis and led Brazil 2-0 and might have played the best three halves of soccer in USA history. And while success in the Confed Cup doesn't mean success in the World Cup, it is an oppurtunity to represent CONCACAF and play with the best in the world for a two weeks. That experience couldn't hurt.
THREE KEYS TO THE GAME: USA
 - Stop Javier Hernandez - Perhaps contain is a better word. Hernandez is a poacher, you don't want him with the ball anywhere near the 18 so he can shoot. Do I care if he makes a run down the wing, sure, but that means he's distributing the ball and not on the recieving end of a dangerous cross. The center of the US lines (Bradley, Jones, Bocanegra, Goodson) will have to be on top of their games and stay organized for all 90 minutes because one tiny mistake could be all it takes in this one.
 - Use the wings - The USA's best options for attack, especially if Bob Bradley is going to use a 4-5-1/4-2-3-1, are out wide. If you saw the USA's goal against Panama you'll know why. The US has always been best out wide in open space and when they struggled in the 4-4-2, they seemed content to go straight up the middle. Since that tactical change, the USA attack seems to be much more potent.
 - FINISH! - Mexico is not going to give up chances easily asn the USA has to put those chances on goal. Mexico lost thier top keeper Guillermo Ochoa to suspension along with four other players, forcing backup Alfredo Talavera into net for the last four games. While Talavera has been good, he's not as experienced in the international level and has just a total of five caps, four during this tournament.
THREE KEYS TO THE GAME: MEXICO
 - Patience - Mexico is going to have to break down the USA formation to generate chances. That means that most of them, especially in the latter stages of the game will be stuffed. But that shouldn't deflate anyone on the Mexico side, especially considering how tight Mexico has played in their last two matches.
 - Don't get countered - The USA isn't exactly known for its counter play, but against Mexico, that might be their best option to score. Mexico has an attacking mentality and this might be the first team Mexico has played in this tournament to exploit the El Tri defense on the counter. This might mean marking the USA wingers, Dempsey and/or Donovan throughout the match if necessary.
 - ATTACK! - Mexico has played the last two games of the knockout stages in a very timid manner in my opinion. That is not their best football, but that 10 minute surge against Honduras in the first half of extra time was. Mexico is not a team that should be sitting back playing defense, even with a lead. They're best going forward and trying to extend their lead, not protecting it. And since the USA is known for slow starts, a quick goal to start things off is always a good thing.
The USA won the last meaningful final between these two teams in 2007 and earned CONCACAF's last Confederations Cup berth. Mexico destroyed a "B" squad for the USA in the 2009 final, a 5-0 thrashing that pretty much everyone saw coming. I wouldn't say there is a revenge factor for this game, but the rivalry factor will be as high as the 2002 World Cup Round of 16 matchup. Niether team can get caught up in the moment and turn this game into a cardfest.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Eric Lichaj, USA, LB - Has Bob Bradley found the solution to the Yank's left-back problem?
Aldo de Negris, MEX, FW - Tremendous striker for El Tri that came off the bench and scored the equalizer agaisnt Guatemala and has four goals overall in the tournament.
Tim Howard, USA, GK - Best keeper in the region, the one true advantage the USA has today.
Javier Hernandez, MEX, FW - Might've heard of him, goes by Chicharito, plays for Man U, scores every game.
Jermaine Jones, USA, MF - Another pleasant suprise, a great pairing in central mid with Michael Bradely.