The United States Men’s National Team has the opportunity to win a second trophy this summer, progressing to the final of the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Once again, the opponent is Mexico, which Gregg Berhalter and an almost wholly different roster dispatched in June’s Nations League championship. The rivalry is renewed one again at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada, the last remaining test in advance of World Cup qualifying.
Neither team has looked completely convincing during the competition, an understandable state considering the squads range from the C+ to B+ range. The struggles have provided the opportunity for both managers to discover and integrate depth options, mild experimentation that should continue into the final. However, this is still the United States versus Mexico, with all of the elevated tensions expected from such a fixture. Both programs would receive a slight boost from winning this Gold Cup, although perhaps El Tri manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino would face more criticism after a second consecutive defeat.
“We are calm to be in one more final,” the Argentine said in his press conference. “It is what always has to happen with Mexico and more because we know that it is not easy despite the favoritism. We are going to face the United States team. We have the United States jersey in front of us in another final and we will seek to win it.”
W (1-0) – Qatar – Gold Cup Semifinals
W (1-0) – Jamaica – Gold Cup Quarterfinals
W (1-0) – Canada – Gold Cup Group B
W (6-1) – Martinique – Gold Cup Group B
W (1-0) – Haiti – Gold Cup Group B
W (2-1) – Canada – Gold Cup Semifinals
W (3-0) – Honduras – Gold Cup Quarterfinals
W (1-0) – El Salvador – Gold Cup Group A
W (3-0) – Guatemala – Gold Cup Group A
D (0-0) – Trinidad and Tobago – Gold Cup Group A
What To Watch For
Limit defensive mistakes. Playing in possession is always a risk, with harsh lessons ideally learned in less meaningful matches. The USMNT back line has made a few catastrophic mistakes in the defensive third. Opponents have thus far been unable to take advantage, failing to get past goalkeeper Matt Turner during the run of play. Mexico’s attackers, which includes elusive target man Rogelio Funes Mori, will not be as forgiving.
Keep pace. Outside of the rout against Martinique, there is a paucity of goals. Striker Daryl Dike appears to have hit a mild cold streak relative to his high standards and could probably use a break. If Mexico scores multiple times, the USMNT might not be able to keep pace. The team that finds the back of the net first will probably win.
Fullbacks will be tested. Sam Vines and Shaq Moore have been two of the better USMNT players at this competition, likely solidifying inclusion on future rosters. Both have been involved in the build-up while helping to put out defensive fires, although the occasional opponent counter attack has outpaced their arrival. This final presents their greatest test, as wingers Jesús Corona and Orbelín Pineda play high up the field and cut inside, making space for additional raids from overlapping fullbacks. The American defenders may be instructed to commit fewer runs forward, in turn limiting their influence in possession.
Berhalter has some interesting choices to make, particularly in light of recent results. The attacking group has experienced the most rotation throughout the competition, although the same lineup featured in both knockout round matches. Expect the same team except for a major change up top.
There is no sense in making any great alterations to the defense this late in the competition. Matt Turner has likely cemented himself as the permanent back-up or third choice at goalkeeper. The back line has continued to put in “bend but don’t break” performances, looking to see out one last match.
The midfield could experience some changes, but Berhalter appears to have settled on this three as his preferred group. Mexico’s press will challenge Gianluca Busio, looking to force the young player into bad decisions. If the manager chooses to go with a more aggressive option, Cristian Roldan is available and put in an impressive performance against Qatar.
The wingers appear established, as Paul Arriola overcame an injury and Matthew Hoppe displays intriguing positional versatility. After scoring the game-winning goal against Qatar, Gyasi Zardes could be rewarded with a spot in the starting lineup. Dike struggled to score outside of his brace against Martinique, possibly forcing Berhalter to instead select the veteran. Both players will likely feature, but the decision of which would serve as the greater impact substitution could wield the greatest influence over the result.
The already precarious USMNT defensive depth was further stretched by the injury to Walker Zimmerman. James Sands has performed admirably, even stepping into a four-player back line against Qatar. Unfortunately for this group, Mexico simply has more talent and experience on the roster, handing Berhalter a 3-1 loss.