PREVIEW – The first ever Concacaf Nations League final pits the two biggest rivals of the continent: US and Mexico. It’s a rivalry as old as time, ushering in a new chapter to the battle. Sunday’s final is a big game for both coaches in the dugout, with key tactical lineup decisions to make.
Concacaf Nations League Final Preview: USMNT vs Mexico
It’s fair to say that both USMNT and Mexico underwhelmed on their way to the final. Gregg Berhalter’s side left it late courtesy of Jordan Siebatcheu’s header off the bench in the 89th minute. Opponents Honduras had a handful of chances to spring a shock but ultimately couldn’t do so. However, they did serve a Concacaf lesson, making the game a physical affair with fouls and time wasting. A young squad would’ve willed and lost their cool, but US didn’t and are now playing for a trophy to show for it.
Mexico had to make do with a penalty shootout to advance, a 5-4 decision. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa saved Allan Cruz’s effort, the 35-year-old proving once again his importance in these pressure-packed situations. Costa Rica didn’t muster much shot or chance creation, and Gerardo Martino will surely tinker with his tactics to stifle the USMNT attack.
Tactical Decisions to make
Berhalter will have a few selections to consider ahead of this game. Josh Sargent didn’t score but made a game-saving play heading away a possible score off the goal line. Even so, he didn’t get himself in decent spaces or took chances himself throughout the game. Siebatcheu took his goal well in his brief appearance and does offer a different wrinkle in the attack. As it stands, scoring gives you favor so it’s more likely than not that the Young Boys striker starts the final.
Jackson Yueill also struggled distributing his passes and screening in front of the back four, so it’s possible Kellyn Acosta starts in his place. Sebastian Lleget and Weston McKennie in all probability make up the three man midfield. One other possible switch may be Brendan Aaronson over Giovanni Reyna, the latter should’ve done better with his effort in the opening minutes of the game.
As for Mexico, don’t expect too much turnover for the final. The starting XI against Costa Rica is as close to their A-squad as it comes. Hirving Lozano and Diego Lainez are secure on the wings and pose the biggest threat up front. Alan Pulido may get the nod over Henry Martin as Martino may switch things up. One possible wrinkle could be midfielder Jesus Corona over Hector Herrera. The experience brought by Andres Guardado is invaluable and too much to not have him start.
Where will the game be decided?
The wingers in this game are a joy to watch. Christian Pulisic, Aaronson, Reyna, on one side; Lozano, Lainez on the other and you have the makings of some entertaining duels on either flank. With Mexico deploying a 3-4-3, it’ll be interesting to see how its defense deals with the pace and creativity of the USMNT players out wide. Gerardo Arteaga and Uriel Antuna were wing-backs and will definitely need to track back in order to double team the ball carriers.
One thing to note was how narrow Berhalter’s team played against Honduras. It ended up as a deterrent to their build-up play as at times play was slowed down to a crawl. Defender John Brooks lofted the ball in the air that ended with Siebatcheu scoring, which is fine but shouldn’t be the way to create attacks against El Tri. Spacing out into wider positions could serve well to stretch the Mexico backline. Conversely, Lainez and Hirving are excellent dribblers and will give the US fits at times with their movement. Sergino Dest and one of Antonee Robinson or Reggie Cannon will likely be more defensive and not roam forward too far.
The Last Word
It must be said, but there is the possibility that this game could be halted due to anti-gay chants from Mexico supporters. It happened to the point where the match was stopped and fans were ejected as a result. Mexico have had trouble stopping its fans from making such derogatory chants and FIFA opened an investigation back in March. With the incredible amount of fan support El Tri brings to any international fixture, the fear exists that CONCACAF’s antidiscrimination protocol is enacted once more.
— Concacaf Nations League (@CNationsLeague) June 4, 2021
As far as the game itself is concerned, it’s going to be tight. It’s a final and these games are rarely blowouts so don’t be surprised if it goes to penalties. And with trophies on the line, moments of inspiration are required so look to the aforementioned wingers on either team. The pressure is on the managers of these big nations to bring home another trophy, especially as it’s against one another in this classic rivalry.
Photo Credit: John A. Babiak @Photog_JohnB