CONCACAF rivals have brought a variety of squads to this summer’s tournament, but are now on the verge of colliding again.
It has only been 56 days since the last American and Mexican men’s national team faced each other in what seemed to be a high-profile match that seemed to enter a new chapter in one of the biggest football disputes.
However, during those 56 days, the two rivals have gone their separate ways.
USMNT sent its stars home, giving them more time to rest and recover as the program aimed to deepen the players.
Mexico, meanwhile, were looking to strengthen their existing position as they licked their wounds and promised to fight back after losing the CONCACAF Nations League final that night in Denver.
And the two teams, 56 days later, meet on the other end of the tournament as they meet again in the Gold Cup final on Sunday.
But the game will have a completely different look, as the two programs are close to this tournament with two different philosophies.
However, with the exception of all the things they did differently last month or so, both teams came in with the same expectations: winning.
While USMNT may have that expectation now that it has reached the finals, it is safe to say that, in some cases, winning was the second goal. Instead of calling his A-team, Berhalter allowed stars such as Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna to rest, turning to a small team looking at the spots on the team when the World Cup qualifiers begin in the fall.
At the start of the tournament, Berhalter said his main goal was to “collect information”, and he has achieved a lot so far.
So far, you have read that Miles Robinson and James Sands have official international affairs. He has learned that Kellyn Acosta may be the 6th backup needed by the team and that Gianluca Busio is a small star that everyone claims to be.
He learned that Matt Turner could just be his No.1 goalkeeper and that players like Matthew Hoppe could be ready to move on.
However, while Berhalter learned a lot, the most important part of this exercise was ensuring that the young stars of this group learned along the way. Also, after a tough win over the likes of Qatar, Jamaica, and Canada, it is safe to say that they have been tested.
So that brings us to the big question: what can they expect from this final against Mexico? Is the U.S. Should he be glad he got here, increasing the chances of learning about these players? In a country where the U.S. It still has to prove it can be ready for the World Cup, can it win one final and make it to another?
Somehow, yes, but Berhalter says the team does not believe they have met or exceeded expectations this summer. At least for now.
“I don’t really recommend that school of thought,” Berhalter said. “I think it’s abusive to our boys and to our team.
“The boys want to win this game. We will do our best to win this game, and if we don’t win this game, I can assure you that we will be very disappointed.
“We’ve been together for four weeks now and the boys are very close. There’s nothing better than winning this title, and that’s when we’ll be 100% focused.”
“The only thing we could expect was the team’s thinking,” he added. “You never know exactly how a team will come together when you make a list and I’m totally amazed at how the team comes together and how the players respond to the challenges and how the team itself is focused on our goals.”
Mexico, meanwhile, has always had only one goal. As is often the case at El Tri, there were two options in the competition: winning everything or losing the perfect match.
The Mexican team, which included most of the group’s home names, was chosen with that in mind.
At El Tri, the coach is equal to the team’s performance for the last time, so even the slightest step was not enough to put Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino in the hot seat.
So far, he has played well. Despite the controversy surrounding his nomination, Rogelio Funes Mori came in perfectly fine. The loss of Hirving Lozano was devastating, indeed but, so far, the team has faced well enough to finish.
To get there, they even had to overcome heartbreak as star midfielder Jonathan dos Santos took the field hours after his father won an emotional victory in Canada.
And they entered Sunday’s game as an obvious favorite against their rivals, which Martino is well aware of.
“First of all, the peace of mind that comes from being in another final is what should happen so often with Mexico,” he said. “We know it’s not easy, even favorites. We have a chance to get into another final tomorrow.
“We will be facing USMNT, the team the coach decided to choose for the Gold Cup. The reasons for those decisions do not bother us, and we should not analyze them, we just have an American shirt against us in another final and we will be able to go out and beat it.”
And so the stage is set which is probably another old merger. One is missing some of the big stars, but the other has all the details baked directly.
USMNT’s victory gives Berhalter’s side one leg of the World Cup qualifiers, and it also gives the United States the official claim to be the team to beat in the region.
Mexico’s victory eases any concerns about that fact, re-appointed El Tri back to the top of CONCACAF.
From the youth level onwards, every time the two teams meet, there is a common belief on both sides that every game should be won. No matter the stakes or the situation, the loss is unbearable.
That’s what makes these games so special. That’s what makes these games often out of control.
And that’s why Sunday night’s Gold Cup final still means a lot to both teams, although there are various ways to get there.
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