LAS VEGAS — When the U.S. males’s nationwide crew and Mexico meet in Sunday’s 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup last, it will likely be the second time in 56 days that the longtime rivals have confronted one another with a continental title on the road. And but the 2 matches couldn’t be extra totally different by way of the relative stakes concerned.
Again on June 6, the perimeters met within the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League last, and it was the U.S. in determined want of a win as a result of, for everything of supervisor Gregg Berhalter’s tenure, there had but to be a victory that confirmed that the crew was again on an upward trajectory.
A press release was wanted, not solely to generate some confidence within the coach’s strategies but in addition to present this technology of gamers one thing tangible to go together with its simple expertise. And, whatever the wild sequence of occasions that came about through the sport, the collective group stepped up, absorbed the strain — and a bottle or two to the pinnacle — to in the end stroll away with a 3-2 win after additional time.
As for Mexico, whereas the loss stung — they all the time do towards the U.S. — there was a perception that Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s males had performed properly sufficient to win, having led twice and with the prospect to make it 3-3 however for Ethan Horvath to save lots of Andres Guardado’s penalty. Because it stood, El Tri could be again to combat one other day.
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So what has modified heading into Sunday’s encounter at Allegiant Stadium? In a phrase: expectations.
The U.S. got here into this event with an deliberately youthful, inexperienced roster, with one basic motive the will to present presumptive first-team regulars — Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Giovanni Reyna and others — relaxation forward of what’s anticipated to be a busy season for each membership and nation.
However there was additionally a have to get a greater thought of how impactful up-and-coming members of the participant pool may very well be on the worldwide degree. That is particularly essential on condition that triple-fixture home windows dot the horizon for World Cup qualifying, which begins in September, and depth will probably be examined.
Expectation-wise, this left the U.S. in a little bit of a conundrum. Berhalter has mentioned from the start that the aim was to win the event, no matter roster building. And but there have been instances when the crew’s youth has been trotted out as an evidence for shaky performances.
A 1-0 group-stage win towards Canada, who had a slight edge in experience but also fielded some new faces in the absence of stars such as Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, was seen as a case in point, yet it was not so much the young players who let the U.S. down that day but rather veterans who did not step up.
In Thursday’s semifinal win, Qatar looked a cut above in the first half but were unable to find a way past the impressive Matt Turner in goal, which allowed the Americans to rally late in the game and seal victory through an all-important Gyasi Zardes goal.
That this U.S. squad has reached the final speaks well of its ability to adapt, grow and grind out results. Moreover, while injuries to the likes of defender Walker Zimmerman, midfielder Paul Arriola and defender Reggie Cannon have limited options, they have also given Berhalter data points on players like Shaq Moore, Miles Robinson, James Sands and Matthew Hoppe.
Given those developments, the U.S. would seem to be playing with house money on Sunday, although Berhalter denied that was the case in his pregame press conference. Its objectives have largely been achieved and little is expected against the pre-tournament favorite. Yet Berhalter wants his side to be greedy and finish the job.
“We’re not done, and that was the message to the team,” the U.S. coach said after the semifinal. “It’s nice to make the final, but we want to win the final. Our No. 1 goal is to win the Gold Cup. We said that before the Gold Cup, and we’ll say it again.”
By contrast, the stakes for Mexico could not be more different. This is a game it dare not lose, even if it almost cannot win; beating a short-handed U.S. team to claim a 12th Gold Cup title would prove little, even if there are a players absent like Raul Jimenez and Hirving Lozano.
But in the event of defeat, pressure would increase and doubts would be raised heading into World Cup qualifying. Would it even be enough to cost Martino his job?
There has certainly been that impulse at times in the past, but the tenure of predecessor Juan Carlos Osorio is instructive. The Mexico Football Federation stuck by him after a 7-0 thrashing by Chile in the 2016 Copa America Centenario quarterfinals, and that patience and emphasis on stability was rewarded with World Cup qualification and a famous victory over holders Germany in Russia.
This Mexico team has found a way to get results, even if the actual play has sometimes fallen short of its lofty standards. Jonathan dos Santos has been rallied around following the death of his father, and one would expect that its experience edge all over the field, but especially in a midfield led by Hector Herrera, will tell at some point.
Berhalter noted how poor his side was in terms of winning duels against Qatar, with just 42.7%, while the tackle success was even worse at 30%. If that happens again, the likes of Rogelio Funes Mori should benefit and make it a long night for a back line that has performed so well.
But the very nature of this long-standing rivalry means that another drama-filled chapter seems inevitable. Given the mental fortitude shown over the past few weeks by the U.S., as well as the must-win nature of the game for Mexico, expect another compelling encounter.