Who: USA vs Mexico
When: Sunday @ 9:00 pm ET
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Line: Mexico +120 | Draw +205 | USA +225
The following tweet from Xavier Sol la Lande is making the rounds.
#TuCopaOro— Xavier Sol la Lande (@XaviSol_) July 4, 2019
Clara superioridad hombre por hombre. (Último 11) 🇲🇽🇺🇸🏆⚽️
Ochoa > Steffen
Gallardo > Ream
Moreno > Long
Salcedo > Miazga
Chaka > Cannon
Edson > Bradley
Jonathan > Weston
Guardado > Pulisic
Jiménez > Altidore
Pizarro > Arriola
Alcarado > Morris
Martino > Berhalter pic.twitter.com/zK2RJ7fFXB
If it is to be believed then we shouldn’t expect much of a battle when the USMNT face Mexico Sunday night at Soldier Field in Chicago in the Gold Cup Final.
Is Mexico really that far ahead of the US?
It is an interesting tweet though, because other than Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, not too many American fans are likely to go to the mat to advocate for the U.S players as superior to their Mexican counterparts.
The tweet and its thesis that the Mexican players are universally more talented than the Americans is interesting because the two national teams have had oddly similar Gold Cups. One difference is that Mexico’s coach Tata Martino, late of Atlanta United, has brought what many considered a “B” team, minus the likes of Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Hector Herrera, and others.
But back to the similarities. Both sides eased through group play with perfect 3-0-0 records. They easily advancing to the knockout rounds, as pre-ordained by the Gold Cup schedule makers.
And while Mexico hammered Cuba 7-0 and the U.S slammed Guyana 4-0 and T&T 6-0, there were tenser moments as well.
For the Americans, a 1-0 victory over Panama was mostly excused because Panama has given the Americans trouble in the past and coach Gregg Berhalter ran out an entirely new starting 11 vs. the Canaleros.
Mexico wasn’t overly impressive in a 3-1 win over Canada but this was the year Canada was supposed to fulfill all that promise, wasn’t it? More concerning for El Tri was a narrow 3-2 win over Martinique.
The U.S. had that moment in the quarterfinals, struggling to a 1-0 victory over Curacao, while Mexico battled Costa Rica to a 1-1 draw before prevailing on penalty kicks in a battle of equals.
Berhalter insisted that all was well in his team’s narrow escape versus the tiny constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Curacao, but he wisely made several lineup changes for the semifinal match with Jamaica.
Mexico’s semifinal versus Haiti proved to be a surprising nailbiter as they struggled to a 1-0 victory over Haiti, a longtime struggler that appears to be on the rise.
So, two teams that have failed to live up to expectations against some weaker opponents, while providing some moments of excitement and still managing to survive to the meet in the final as expected.
Another interesting tidbit is that the seven times winner, Mexico and the six times winner, the USA, do not meet regularly in the final, this will be the first time since 2011 that the two CONCACAF powers have met in the Championship match of the semi-annual event.
No, but seriously, are Mexican national players that much better than the US?
So, are the Mexican players all > better than their American counterparts and does it matter in a team sport?
Well, not really, and not really.
Pulisic and McKennie are getting stronger as the Gold Cup goes on and seem to be on the verge of taking over this team and claiming it as their own. In some cases, it is too close to call or maybe worry about, like in goal where Ochoa is in good form but so is Zack Steffen (and the younger American has a huge upside).
But, again, soccer, football, futbol, however you refer to it, is a team sport and these two teams seem fairly evenly matched as we head to Sunday night’s showdown.
Mexico plays primarily in a 4-3-3, likes to control possession and will give the U.S. trouble in the midfield. Andres Guardado, always tough on the Americans, Jonatha Dos Santos, and Jesus Gallardo will cause problems. That trio will need to be battled to a standstill or better by Michael Bradley, Weston McKennie, and Christian Pulisic.
And Berhalter’s defense will need to be on its toes to blunt the Mexico frontline. Led by Wolverhampton target man Raul Jiminez, who has five goals in this tournament, speedy L.A. Galaxy winger Uriel Antuna, who has four, and Rodolfo Pizzaro, this is a formidable front three.
Berhalter’s selections are critical
Berhalter has some decisions to make after his team impressed in the semifinal against Jamaica. Does he stay with Reggie Cannon and Matt Miazga over Nick Lima and Walker Zimmerman?
Cannon provides an element of speed that Lima doesn’t, but Lima has been a Berhalter guy from the beginning. Miazga was beaten for Jamaica’s goal but had a strong game otherwise. Zimmerman was a rare bright spot for the U.S. against Curacao.
The defensive calls are close ones. Berhalter will also have to choose between Tyler Boyd and Jordan Morris at right-wing, essentially another jump ball. The coach’s other big decision, however, should be no decision at all.
To lead the attack it has to be Jozy Altidore over Gyasi Zardes. Against Jamaica, Altidore played a strong first 56’ before being replaced by Zardes. Once in, Zardes promptly missed a sitter before turning the ball over, leading to Jamaica’s goal, the only goal the U.S. has surrendered at this Gold Cup.
So, yeah, start Altidore.
The US has little margin for error in this game. Berhalter’s must nail his selections.