USMNT-Mexico Rivalry, Post-Nations League Classic: What's Next?

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After Sunday's instant classic between USA et Mexico in the Nations League final, there is still a lot to do with the USMNT 3-2 Overcome El Tri.

Has the USMNT lived up to the potential promised by its young stars as Christian Pulisic et Weston McKennie? Are Mexico still considered the best team in CONCACAF despite the heartbreaking loss? And while Gregg Berhalter won his first trophy as USMNT manager, Gerardo “Tata” Martino might start to feel the pressure that comes with being in charge of Mexico.

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ESPN's Jeff Carlisle and Eric Gomez reflect on the epic game in Denver, while assessing the condition of both teams with qualifying for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the CONCACAF World Cup.

Jump to: Lessons learned | Impact on coaches | Gold Cup, World Cup screenings | State of rivalry

What did we learn about the two teams (the good, the bad and the ugly)?

Carlisle: The biggest takeaway from CNL's triumph is that the increase in talent that the United States has brought in over the past 18 months is starting to translate into results, while also getting a taste of what it will look like. CONCACAF competitive matches.

Of course, players like John Brooks and Pulisic are familiar with the genre of play and shenanigans that go on in CONCACAF, whether it's poor field conditions, crazy weather, or provocations of all kinds. But these last two games have been a kind of baptism for some of the youngest elements of the squad like Giovanni Reyna, Josh Sargent and Sergino dest. And while some people have fared better than others - you can count Reyna among the ones who really impressed - the United States has done enough collectively to secure two wins, including huge self-confidence against their Mexican rivals.

Better yet, players like McKennie, Brooks and Pulisic have started to take on more of a leadership role, stepping up their efforts in big moments. McKennie took the US team on the back in the game against Mexico, and Pulisic, while calm overall, delivered in a clutch moment with his penalty kick. These are all vital developments for this side.

There's a lot of talk about the continued barren spell in front of goal for Sargent. The good news is that the United States is scoring goals without him, but he has to get away with it at some point. How much patience will the American manager Berhalter have on this front?

Aside from Brooks, the defense remains a work in progress. Berhalter used a four back line against Honduras and then a three (or five, depending on how you look) setup early against Mexico before slipping back to four later. Weaknesses were exposed in both systems. Against Honduras, the United States appeared vulnerable in transition. Against Mexico, the United States sometimes struggled to build in the back - including a giveaway from Mark McKenzie which led to Crown of jesus's opener - and was vulnerable on the balls on top. The system was clearly asking too much of Tim Ream, who has been isolated several times in individual situations against Mexico and has struggled.

And what about Dest? The switch to a three-way system was supposed to free up the Barcelona the man until entering more into the attack; Not only did he fail in that regard, but he gave Ream little defensive help.

This leaves Berhalter with a sort of conundrum, which could be solved if Tyler Adams can stay healthy. The team's defensive form solidified when it came onto the pitch against Mexico, providing wide assistance when needed. But getting Dest back on track, and finding a defensive system that can work even if Adams isn't available, is his biggest task right now.

Gomez: The Mexican night in Denver started off as good as it could get: Corona crossed the left side of the pitch, leaving the US defenders behind, and after losing the ball he got it back after a stray pass from McKenzie left him one-on-one against the goalkeeper Zack Steffen. Corona's goal set the tone for most of the first half: El Tri took advantage of a high defensive line by throwing long balls at his wingers, often creating chances against retreating opponents.

As Mexico's subsequent attacks in the first half showed, El Tri's the offensive strength comes from his quick wingers who can expand the field, creating opportunities either by force of their own abilities or by forcing mistakes from overwhelmed defenders. However, after the United States stepped up their defensive roster in the second half to better prepare for wide attacks, Mexico's cracks began to show.

Without Raul Jimenez to take the load up front, Gerardo Martino and Olympic team manager Jaime Lozano have a shallow pool of center-forwards to choose from this summer. In the last four of the League of Nations, Mexico mostly got off thanks to the brilliant flashes of the individual artists. It's hard to imagine seeing this team qualify even for the final if not for the goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Sunday, Ochoa, Corona and second half Diego Lainez no doubt kept the team afloat in key stretches.

Going forward, Martino needs to focus on two key issues. Mexico allowed two corner goals against the United States, and almost every other dead ball was a threat. In previous years, under Juan Carlos Osorio, special attention was paid to this part of the game and became less problematic. Plus, while there isn't much Martino can do about the player pool to buttress his squad's needs, his confidence in clearly out of form players such as Uriel Antuna, Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez and Alain Pulido must end.

Finally, as the game drew to a close, the Mexican players were obviously affected by the increasing pressure, committing stupid fouls and finding themselves embroiled in scrimmages with the Americans even before Pulisic scored the decisive penalty kick. . During the last years, El Tri seemed unloaded from playing the United States on American home soil, securing key victories in the process. Sunday evening, the ghosts of back to cero the era seemed to wander among them.



Herculez Gomez is reacting to the United States' 3-2 win over Mexico in overtime to win the first CONCACAF Nations League title.

What does this mean for Berhalter and Martino?

Carlisle: Let's say right off the bat that even if the United States lost that game, Berhalter wasn't going to get fired, and he shouldn't have been. You don't hire a coach, get him to manage the team through all the hardships created by the coronavirus pandemic, then fire him three months before World Cup qualifying because of ... some tactical bickering?

Until Sunday's game, he had obtained the expected results. The victory over Mexico now cements their position and gives them the signing victory their tenure needed in order to generate some momentum for the program. And while the players have their own motivations for playing for the national team, it is obvious that this team went to the mat on Sunday to secure the victory. It says a lot about the environment Berhalter has created, as well as the quality of its message.

That's not to say that some of Berhalter's decisions can't be called into question. The use of Ream to the detriment of Matt Miazga is a puzzle. You must be wondering how many more opportunities Sargent is going to have, and Pulisic needs more opportunities. But the team is growing, and Berhalter deserves some credit for it.

Now he has the luxury of experimenting at the Gold Cup. Qualifications for the World Cup are then announced, which will be the ultimate judge of his mandate.

Gomez: At the start of the Nations League final, it looked like Martino was delivering a tactical masterclass to an overwhelmed Berhalter. In the first 30 minutes of the game, Mexico was a VAR replay away from a 2-0 advantage. As we all know, however, the game changed moments later when Reyna turned an American corner into an equalizer.

From there, Mexico's aforementioned tactical advantage slowly waned as Martino was increasingly unable to rely on his quick wingers to wreak havoc on his opponent as the match progressed. While Berhalter's use of substitutions can be rightly criticized from the winning side, Martino was equally baffling in his player selection and in-game training rearrangements.

El Tri seemed lost at times when he couldn't rely on Corona, Lozano, and Lainez to create an instant attack. When Henri Martin replaced by Corona (who was limited in time due to a pre-existing injury), the Argentinian manager's bet to balance his attack fell through. As they did against Costa Rica a few days earlier, Mexico were much less dangerous in attack with a real center forward than without. Borrow a page from Los Ticos, Berhalter dared El Tri attacking his team from the middle by thwarting the wingers - it worked.

In defense, against talented players with line breaking speed, he was at the limit of irresponsibility to keep 33 years old Hector Moreno for exactly 100 minutes. But Hector Herrera was gassed and was in constant danger of getting a red card when extra time ran out, bringing in a 34-year-old Andres Guardado filling the role was a questionable decision. Even with her fresh legs, Pulisic and McKennie tore the The real Betis midfield at will.

Yes, some of those bad decisions can be attributed to the impending generational change in Mexico and the aforementioned lack of depth, but Martino's decision making will now be increasingly under the microscope.



Sebastian Salazar blames CONCACAF for not taking more decisive action in response to anti-gay chant in the Nations League final.

How is this project going for the Gold Cup and the qualifiers for the World Cup?

Carlisle: The roster that Berhalter takes for the Gold Cup is necessarily completely different from the one that played in the Nations League. He wants and needs his European-based players to rest after long seasons at club. Clubs will also be grateful for his judicious use of these stars. Instead, Berhalter will go with a group derived primarily from MLS. This should help him get answers as to who will understand his depth pieces, and he might even uncover a player or two - Daryl digue, perhaps? - who can become regular contributors.

By far the biggest priority is qualifying for the World Cup, and that's when the public will next see the players who were on display on Sunday night. While the CNL will not have a direct impact on this competition, the boost in confidence gained from this competition should prepare the United States well when qualifying begins in September with a three-match window. Part of the reason the United States scheduled a pair of friendlies around the CNL was to mimic the cadence of such a window, and Berhalter is undoubtedly already gleaning data from the current camp.

The September window includes an away game with Honduras, an always delicate encounter. The game in Honduras counts as a border that this group of American players has yet to cross, as it is an away date in Central America. Recall that in the CNL group stage, the United States fell against Canada 2-0 in Toronto in an environment which, without being friendly, is far from being the most inhospitable it can find in the region.

The United States is riding a wave of momentum towards World Cup qualifying. A bad result anywhere would put an end to this, something Berhalter will be careful to move forward on.

Gomez: The next few months have the potential to load Mexican fans with a lot of disappointments, celebrations, or a combination of the two. Losing to the United States in any capacity is unacceptable to El Tri, which means the team will now look to the Gold Cup to make up for the lack of the inaugural Nations League crown.

However, Mexico will also field a team at the Tokyo Olympics. Considering the difficulty of negotiating with European clubs to allow their players to participate (as this overlaps with the start of their season), it seems more likely El Tri will rely on players from Liga MX or MLS to fill in the gaps in the roster, including the three over-aged players each country is allowed to bring. We've already mentioned the player pool limitations Martino faced for the senior team; these are only aggravated when it comes to filling two sides at full strength.

Mexican fans and media have had high expectations for their Olympic team since the 2012 team won gold against a highly favored Brazilian team in London, and this group is no exception. Even with El Tri's talent on display, getting past hosts Japan and medal favorites France in the group will not be an easy task. This sets up a scenario in which if Mexico do not win the Gold Cup and say they do not advance to the quarter-finals in Tokyo, the program will continue until the World Cup qualifiers in September under abundant pressure.

A quick glance at the newspapers and TV show pundits after the loss to the United States makes it clear: Martino's long honeymoon period with Mexico is over, and it can only get worse with it. time. Thus, it is essential that Mexico have a good summer after this first disappointment in the League of Nations.



Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath breaks the penalty saved in overtime that helped USMNT win the CONCACAF Nations League.

Where does the rivalry go from here?

Carlisle: The rivalry between the United States and Mexico has suffered in recent times on two fronts. One is the fact that before Sunday night Mexico had won the games that mattered in recent years. You had to go back to 2013 during a World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio to find the last time America won a game with something more than pride at stake.

Another was how often the two teams met. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic put that on hold to some extent, but before 2020 you had to go back to 2010 - a World Cup year - to find the last time both teams did. do not face in a given calendar year. Rather than being special occasions, these encounters became mundane, diluting the passion for rivalry. Yes, friendlies make money for both federations, but a “less is more” approach could help maintain the intensity.

The improvement of the American team will also play a role in intensifying the rivalry. It was a novelty to see an American player take part in the UEFA Champions League. Last year alone 10 players were on the Champions League rosters for the group stage, which was followed by 13 players winning 10 trophies during the club's season. That kind of experience will certainly help close the gap with Mexico, which has the strongest domestic league compared to the United States.

Gomez: The United States had not beaten Mexico in an official match since 2013. They had not won a final against El Tri since 2007. Despite some bloody moments in some of the friendlies (Miazga vs. Lainez, anyone?), Mexico could claim near absolute dominance over their biggest rival in recent years. Factor in other big wins in other age groups for men, like the victory keeping the United States out of the Olympics last spring, and seeing the rivalry as one-sided was apt.

But Sunday's intensity, aided by CONCACAF's sheer incompetence (with horrific refereeing, a trophy that may or may not be made of foam, and oh yes, the inexplicably placed VAR tent between the benches) gave a play. for ages. This rivalry needs more of what made the Nations League final great. Frankly, he's ready to do it given America's fledgling star generation and Mexico's willingness to pair his talent with top coaches in recent years. It's hard to argue against anyone who predicts that every game featuring these two teams will be fun in the near future. If both teams advance to the Gold Cup final, we envision four direct clashes - including World Cup qualifiers - over the next nine months.

Frankly, what does nothing to intensify the rivalry or improve it is some of the fan behaviors seen in Denver. Authorities need to crack down on fans who continue to shout anti-gay slurs during matches, and they certainly need to find a way to protect players from those throwing projectiles from the stands, such as those who could have injured Reyna and Martin. The Mexican federation's timid campaigns and weak, almost laughable enforcement of CONCACAF's three-step protocol have done little to curb bad behavior.

These types of unfortunate actions are the responsibility of the two federations and should lead them to regroup in an attempt to stop them once and for all.

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