By defeating Honduras in the semifinal, the United States Men’s National Team qualified for the championship game of the 2021 CONCACAF Nations League Finals. As is customary for most competitions, the opponent is Mexico, setting up another contentious meeting between the two nations. This is the second title match of Gregg Berhalter’s international management career after losing in the final round of the 2019 Gold Cup.
Historically, the titans of CONCACAF have met 71 times, with Mexico holding a 36-19-15 advantage. El Tri qualified for the final four by finishing atop Group B with a perfect 4-0 record, outscoring Panama and Bermuda by a combined 13-3 margin. The semifinal was a tight victory over Costa Rica, requiring six rounds of penalty kicks.
Mexico is managed by Gerardo “Tata” Martino, appointed to the role in January of 2019 after a successful stint leading Atlanta United to the 2018 MLS Cup. Tasked with raising the country to new heights, the team boasts a 21-2-3 record under his leadership. A highly respected figure in the sport, the 58-year-old Argentine has previously been in charge of Paraguay, Newell’s Old Boys, Barcelona, and his birth nation. He was named the 2007 South American Coach of the Year and has claimed a variety of titles at the club and international level, but considers the current position “one of the toughest challenges of [his] career.”
Martino named a 23-player squad for the Nations League Finals featuring a host of familiar veterans and experienced talents entering the prime of their careers. The team includes 13 call-ups from Liga MX and eight competing in Europe. All-time leading scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Raúl Jiménez were not included on the roster, despite both still having “a future” with the national team. Jonathan Dos Santos and Erick Gutiérrez left camp due to injuries.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Alfredo Talavera (UNAM), Rodolfo Cota (León), Guillermo Ochoa (América)
DEFENDERS (7): Néstor Araujo (Celta Vigo), Carlos Salcedo (UANL), Jorge Sánchez (América), Héctor Moreno (Unattached), Gerardo Arteaga (Genk), Luis Rodríguez (UANL), Jesús Gallardo (Monterrey)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Edson Álvarez (Ajax), Sebastian Córdova (América), Luis Romo (Cruz Azul), Carlos Rodríguez (Monterrey), Orbelín Pineda (Cruz Azul), Diego Lainez (Betis), Héctor Herrera (Atlético Madrid), Andrés Guardado (Betis), Uriel Antuna (Guadalajara)
FORWARDS (4): Henry Martín (América), Alan Pulido (Sporting Kansas City), Jesús Corona (Porto), Hirving Lozano (Napoli)
Martino prefers a 4-3-3 formation but unexpectedly used an attacking 3-4-3 in the semifinal. His style involves clearly defined up-tempo tactics that are perfect for the player pool. Relentless when pressuring the opponent, his teams build possession through quick passes and break into the final third. Mexico should come out firing, dictating the pace and pushing the United States for 90 minutes. There should also be some changes made to the squad due to the quick turnaround between matches and a somewhat uninspiring performance against Costa Rica.
Martino has rotated a group of goalkeepers during his tenure, using the crowded schedule to determine the number one. All three on the roster are fairly aged, but the decision will come down to Alfredo Talavera and Guillermo Ochoa. The former – a 38-year-old at UNAM – has seen a lot of playing time and is still an adept shot-stopper. The latter, familiar to all USMNT fans, will likely start and brings big-match experience to the position.
Team captain Héctor Moreno has earned 111 caps and was most recently with Al-Gharafa of the Qatar Stars League. The 33-year-old is a key piece in Martino’s rebuilding process and provides a steady presence on the back line, particularly during possession. Tigres defender Carlos Salcedo is a physical presence and can perfectly time his sliding tackles to shut down a counter attack. Néstor Araujo of Celta Vigo could also be included in the starting lineup again.
At left back, Jesús Gallardo is the likely starter. Sometimes a winger, he pushes deep into the opponent’s half and will shoot from a difficult angle instead of crossing. On the other side of the field, Martino could opt for the more attacking player in Jorge Sánchez or the more traditional Luis Rodríguez. The second option, a 30-year-old at Tigres, would provide more of a balance and thrives in a methodical build-up.
If Mexico returns to the 4-3-3, the midfield triumvirate features a versatile young player and two veterans. Edson Álvarez of Ajax dominates the center of the field on both sides of the ball, constantly stepping into passing lanes and halting dribblers. The advanced pairing of Héctor Herrera and Andrés Guardado provide a creative spark, constantly pushing forward and playing long passes to the wide players.
Despite failing to score against Costa Rica, Martino expressed that the problem “is not the attack.” With Jiménez not included on the roster, the main scoring responsibility falls to Hirving “Chucky” Lozano. Traditionally a winger, the 25-year-old Napoli player is fast, productive, and a tricky dribbler, which makes Real Madrid’s interest of little surprise. He presents a multi-faceted challenge to an American defense currently struggling with cohesion and closing down diagonal runs. Real Betis’ Diego Lainez provides youthful energy, darting behind the back line. Henry Martín may again be called on to play striker. He has yet to find his scoring touch at the international level but can open space with his movements.
If Martino chooses to shuffle the deck, there are several options. Jesús Corona, a 28-year-old Porto attacker, has returned to being a frequent contributor over the past year, dangerous whether crossing from the wing or cutting inside. Regular starter Rodolfo Pizarro was excluded from the roster, creating an opportunity for Orbelín Pineda of Cruz Azul to take on a bigger role. He has a tendency to drop back to receive the ball, serving a complementary role in the attack.
The current edition of the Mexican national team is not the strongest in recent memory, but the program is not quite ready to surrender the crown as the best in the region. Martino has seamlessly integrated the aging stars with an exciting new guard under his proactive tactics, earning respect for communicating “clear, concrete ideas.” The match against Costa Rica was perhaps the worst of his tenure and unlikely to be repeated. A consistent area of weakness in recent friendlies is defending crosses, which could be exploited by a USMNT with talented wingers and capable target strikers.
The match is scheduled for Sunday, June 6th at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include CBS Sports Network, TUDN, Univision, Paramount+, and FUBO TV (free trial).