This USMNT Gold Cup team enters Sunday’s final against Mexico almost playing with house money.
The US sent a B or even C team, depending on your perspective, in an effort to rest most of their European-based players and get them prepared for their club seasons. Making the final while conceding just one goal in the entire tournament (a penalty against Martinique!) is undoubtedly an accomplishment.
Mexico sent its best team. A loss to the US’s backups in the final would be a very disappointing result for them. That will take some pressure off those US players, although not all that much — it’s still a tournament final, and it’s still against Mexico.
The formula for a US win in the final will be similar to pretty much every other game they’ve played so far. They won’t necessarily sit back, and when they have the ball they will push it forward, but they will play somewhat conservatively in an effort to limit chances and control the tempo. Every game they’ve played so far, apart from their 6-1 group stage win over Martinique, has finished 1-0, with the US’s goals either coming right at the beginning (against Haiti and Canada) or right at the end (against Jamaica and Qatar).
It’s likely that the US will be more willing to lay off the ball against a more talented Mexico team, which has had its problems breaking down bunkered opposition in this tournament. In their first game, they kept 83 percent possession and attempted 30 shots but still only managed a 0-0 draw against weak Trinidad and Tobago. They did manage to come through at the death against Canada in the semifinal, scoring the winner in the ninth minute of second half added time.
Here are some storylines to watch for the Americans heading into the final.
Also read: USMNT vs Mexico Gold Cup Final Odds
Production in attack
Arguably the US’s biggest weakness in this tournament has been their creativity and decision-making in attack. They’ve advanced on their defense and goalkeeping, with a handful of big individual moments netting them the goals they’ve needed. Matthew Hoppe and Gyasi Zardes came through in the late stages of their two knockout round games.
Against both Jamaica and Qatar, Berhalter’s starting front three was Hoppe-Daryl Dike–Paul Arriola. They were all three subbed out against Qatar, and it’s certainly possible that at least one of them will be replaced in the starting lineup against Mexico. Finding players who can provide the final ball and make the right decisions in tight attacking areas is the key. The game against Qatar, in which the US’s attackers (particularly the starters) struggled mightily, exposed that weakness.
As ever, Berhalter has some difficult decisions.
At striker, Zardes has been better than Dike lately, so it might make sense to start Zardes and then bring Dike off the bench. I’d expect that Hoppe and Arriola will both start again, but there is an interesting case to be made that Berhalter should find a spot for Cristian Roldan, even if Roldan is a favored whipping boy among a certain section of US fans. Roldan has performed well off the bench as a midfielder or winger, adding more on-the-ball comfort, positional versatility, and defensive coverage.
One option would be to start Roldan ahead of Gianluca Busio and then bring another midfielder on later for a winger, moving Roldan wide. Berhalter will certainly consider the merits of Eryk Williamson as well, whose influence was felt off the bench against Qatar. Williamson is a good progressive passer and a good creative force from midfield. He likely won’t start, but bringing him on as a substitute would make sense.
All of this is dictated by game state, though, and we’ll have to wait and see Mexico’s tactical approach. Berhalter pushed the right buttons against Qatar and he’ll have to do so again against Mexico.
Matt Turner’s superhuman performance
Turner has been outstanding for the US in this tournament, to the point that it has become a serious question as to whether he should start ahead of Zack Steffen in September’s World Cup qualifiers. Turner has made numerous difficult saves, conceding only that penalty against Martinique. He will have to step up again in the final.
The US enter as slight underdogs, but they’re good enough to win. As always, expect drama.
WHERE TO BET THE GOLD CUP FINAL IN THE US
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