One of the more historic rivalries in international soccer will add another chapter on Sunday. The United States and Mexico face off in the Concacaf Nations League final, the 71st meeting between the two sides. Going back to 1934, these two have battled for the top spot in Concacaf, with Mexico getting the upper hand more often than not. Tomorrow night they’ll battle it out for a trophy.
The Yanks didn’t blow anyone away in a 1-0 win over Honduras, but despite their struggles, they actually created a fair amount of chances and limited their opponents. It’s still a work in progress in their first competitive matches in over a year and a half, and there will be some inevitable growing pains.
Josh Sargent hasn’t looked on the same page with the rest of the team for his last several appearances. His timing has been off, and he drops so deep to get involved in the build up play that he doesn’t provide the presence the U.S. need in the box.
Jordan Siebatcheu made a strong case to start with a 15 minute shift that saw him score a late winner. Not only did he get on the scoresheet, but he was a more threatening presence in the box. He linked play well and was able to contribute defensively, but was a more effective focal point in the final third. He’ll give Gregg Berhalter a selection headache up top.
The other major question comes in midfield. Jackson Yueill got the start as the no. 6 against Honduras, and while he wasn’t as bad as U.S. soccer twitter would have one believe, he doesn’t have the passing edge the Yanks need. Too often, Yueill took the safe pass instead of going for a more ambitious line-breaking ball that would create an attacking threat.
Tyler Adams solves a lot of these problems. When healthy, he’s a write-it-in-pen starter in this team, but has been battling lingering issues for the last few months. While he didn’t see the field on Thursday, he’s seemingly in the squad for a reason. If he’s even able to play 60 minutes, he should get the start against Mexico.
The Americans will need to be significantly better against Mexico for a shot at the trophy. They can’t afford to miss their early chances like they did against Honduras; Mexico will make them pay. They also can’t afford to be so conservative in possession. When there’s a forward passing lane, they have to take it.
This United States team clearly has the talent to hang with Mexico. They have yet to prove they have the cohesion.
El Tri also struggled to convince in their semi-final. Costa Rica stayed compact and executed their gameplan to perfection, frustrating Mexico and keeping the game in front of them. While Mexico had the majority of possession, they lacked a cutting edge. They didn’t struggle to finish chances; they struggled to create them.
“When a team has a chance twice in the first half and once in the second, that’s never a finishing problem,” said manager Tata Martino following the match. “Our issue was more linked to the build-up play than with finishing.”
Alan Pulido seems a likely candidate to start up front. The Sporting KC striker replaced Henry Martín in the 58th minute and was a more effective option for his 30 minutes on the pitch. His off-ball movement is exceptional, and he’ll drop deep to link up in possession before making a late run into the box to get between the center-backs.
Martino has two veterans to call on in midfield. Andrés Guardado and Héctor Herrera both ply their trade in Spain’s La Liga, and have a combined 20 years of experience in Europe. They set the pace and tone for this Mexico side, and have the experience and wherewithal to succeed in Concacaf.
Their midfield pairing has been the heartbeat of this El Tri side for nearly a decade. The two started every match of the 2014 and 2018 World Cups together, and have a great chemistry. In Martino’s 3-4-3, they’re flanked by two youngsters. Uriel Antuna and Gerardo Artega compliment their experience with plenty of energy, and offer width and passing outlets in possession.
Young Ajax midfielder Edson Álvarez has carved out a key role in the heart of defense. Most often used as a holding midfielder in the Netherlands, the Club América product plays in the center of the back three for his national team. For El Tri, Álvarez plays a big role in possession, and is flanked by two veteran defenders in Héctor Moreno and Néstor Araujo.
While not quite as formidable as they’ve been in years past, this Mexico side is still the cream of the crop in Concacaf. And playing in Denver, they’ll likely have the backing of a very favorable crowd.
While neither side were great in their semifinal match, these are still the confederation’s flagship sides. Both sides have plenty of European talent. And while the U.S. has players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest playing at the biggest clubs in the world, Mexico has a system more suited for the international level and a much more cohesive identity. Mexico are so, so good in Concacaf finals. I think they take this one, 2-1.
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Teams: United States vs Mexico
FIFA World Rankings: United States (20), Honduras (11)
Odds: United States (+200), Draw (+220) Mexico (+140) via PointsBet
Date: Sunday, June 6
Time: 8:00PM Central, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado
TV: CBS Sports, Paramount+, Univision, TUDN
Forecast: 86°/60°. Clear. 35% chance of rain. 30% humidity.