PREVIEW – Once again, the Gold Cup Final is USA vs Mexico. It’s the most popular final fixture in the tournament and that shouldn’t surprise many. Their roads to the final differ from the other slightly. Mexico was steady in its goalscoring, USA had one breakout game surrounded by gritty 1-0 wins. Both teams have only allowed one goal in this tournament, and both dispatched of a feisty Canada side looking to cement itself as a bonafide CONCACAF contender. Yet one is certainly expected to beat the other.
USA vs Mexico: Five thoughts ahead of Gold Cup Final
All the pressure is on Mexico
USA vs Mexico is always a match where you’ll be disappointed to lose. However, the stakes are much, much higher this time around. This is a USMNT squad that is certainly undermanned. For Mexico, only a few names are missing from the team that lost to USA in the Nations League, and frankly, it should be unsurprising that those aren’t the most important names for them. Still, all the pressure is on Mexico. The USMNT’s talent on paper is inferior, and while there is a lot of promise in it, there isn’t as much experience. For many, it will be their first matchup against Mexico. For the Mexican’s it’ll be their second matchup in as many months.
What can be problematic for Mexico, and has reared its head a few times in recent months, is what happens when things aren’t going right and they start to feel the pressure. They tend to lash out, get frustrated, and then we get the scenes we got in the Nations League Final and the Gold Cup. They tend to press on the field too when they are in trouble and at times it can boil over. If they find themselves in this situation, it could be perfect for the USMNT to capitalize with their opposing position of not having said pressure.
The USMNT squad won’t buy the “happy to be here” talk
Regardless of all the pressure being on Mexico, we can all assume that the USMNT won’t just “be happy to be there” for a final. That’s not how pro sports works! They’ll be gassed up for this final as well, however they’ll be able to play with the freedom of not having the weight of the federation on their shoulders.
These guys are probably sick of all us armchair analysts (no this is not a shot at Matt Doyle) calling them a b-team. They’ve deserved to have their opportunity and are making the most of it. So while we take the “first team” and “b-team” into context, these guys are still playing for the USA. And when they step out on the field they’re going to try to win.
Whether or not Gregg has been able to shield them from the “development” caveats and stupid hot-takes about 19-year-olds who are still learning at a very high level, these guys have played in ignorance of it all and gotten the job done, every time. They believe in their place there, and expect to win.
USMNT has formational flexibility that Mexico doesn’t
The USMNT has gotten results in three separate formations: a 4-3-3, 3-4-3, and 5-3-2. Mexico has struggled against teams who play in the latter two, and that is a chance for the USMNT to roll that out. What is concerning is the lack of personnel at centerback to be able to do those two. Walker Zimerman’s injury pretty much rules that out. Neither Kessler nor Pines are heralded in terms of their ability on the ball. Pines defensive ability might allow them to consider it, but it would be a stretch of their resources, and they don’t have the pace out wide to stretch Mexico either. However, they still do have the exact players to fill that out, and they can keep Mexico guessing, and alternate very quickly.
Key to the game is the midfield
If the US is able to win the midfield battle, a battle they’ve struggled to win this last month of CONCACAF action. But, if they mange to do so, they’ll control Mexico. There is space to build through the middle in Mexico’s setup. After all they’ve tried to manufacture width after the loss of Chuky Lozano for the rest of the tournament, and in doing so teams like El Salvador and Canada found joy, pushing Mexico to its limits defensively. The biggest thing though in those two matches is the last key to the match.
USMNT must play without fear
Playing without fear is how the USMNT can get the job done on Sunday night. It’s how Trinidad and Tobago played, how El Salvador, and Canada played. They’ve all been able to get under Mexico’s skin, and make things happen or frustrate Mexico because they played without fear. If the USMNT does that, they have a shot.