The U.S. Men’s National Team won their second international trophy of the summer last night, beating Mexico in the Gold Cup final just 56 days after they beat Mexico in the Nations League final. Sunday saw another high intensity, open match, with the Americans once again winning in extra time.
Inexperienced group steps up under pressure
Sunday’s lineup had an average age of 24 years, 236 days. It was the second youngest lineup in a final for the U.S., with June’s Nations League team younger by 30 days. In front of a sold out and mostly hostile crowd in Las Vegas’s Allegiant Stadium, young players stepped up. With an average of 19 caps in the lineup, and six players with under 10 appearances, the Yanks held their ground against a talented and experience Mexican side.
Berhalter continued to put young players in high pressure situations and trust that they would learn and grow on the fly. The progression was evident across the span on the match; the Yanks struggled in the opening half, but their composure and influence grew as the match went on, and towards the end they were the dominant side.
Berhalter’s faith in youth has paid off, too. While his roster selection confused many (myself included), his trust in young players resulted in several standout performers whose stock has risen significantly ahead of World Cup qualifying. Matt Turner, Miles Robinson and Matthew Hoppe all look capable of starting for the first-choice group. Sam Vines seems like an option at left back. And Kellyn Acosta‘s return to the national team picture continues with an exceptional performance in the final and the tournament at large. He’s appeared in every match the U.S. have played this season, and has seemingly answered the question of who can fill in for Tyler Adams.
The roster is in better shape now than it was at the start of the Gold Cup. That was priority number one.
Another win when it matters
There are no moral victories in soccer. As much as the tournament served its purpose of strengthening the player pool, a loss on Sunday would have been disappointing. Even with the on-paper gap between Mexico’s “B+” side and the United States’ “C” team, Berhalter was clear in the days leading up that they had every intention of winning.
Victories like this are massively important for a program. Beating your biggest rival in two competitive tournament finals in less than two months isn’t just a nice talking point. It’s a confidence builder and sets the tone for the team going forward. With World Cup qualifying starting in just over a month, the U.S. will feel like they can top the group, and their recent performances against Mexico would indicate that they’ve taken the top spot in Concacaf.
What next for Mexico?
Two finals for manager Tata Martino. Two losses to the U.S. With a matchup against a tricky Jamaica team to start their qualifying campaign, Martino is certainly on the hot seat. El Tri managers have been fired for less than a Gold Cup final loss before, and factoring in the Nations League defeat, his time may already be up.
The core of this side is ageing, and while there are some talented young players coming up, they have yet to stake their claims for the full national team. Does Mexico roll with this group for another year into the World Cup, or do they begin to phase in a younger group? And does Martino get the chance to lead that? It’s not an ideal place to be heading into the Octagonal.