WHIPPANY, N.J. — Unlike two months ago, when Mexico beat the U.S. men’s national team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final, Friday’s friendly match between the Americans and their chief rival [8:30 ET, FS1] won’t have a trophy on the line.
A win by the home side just across the Hudson River from New York City won’t make up for losing the regional championship. It won’t, on its own, restore supporters’ faith in a program that is still desperately fighting for relevancy almost two years after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. But as this young and talented USMNT continues to rebuild under first-year coach Gregg Berhalter, any victory against El Tri certainly wouldn’t hurt.
“They get the credit because they won the Gold Cup. We didn’t,” Berhalter told reporters here this week. “So now for us, it’s about adjusting and playing a better game than we did last time.”
That won’t be easy. The U.S. is without three injured starters in Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga and DeAndre Yedlin. Berhalter elected to leave veterans Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley with their club team, MLS playoff-chasing Toronto FC. Promising young striker Tim Weah (hamstring) was also unavailable for this international window, which concludes with another friendly next week against South American power Uruguay.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s roster is strengthened by the return of experienced attackers Marco Fabian, Hirving Lozano and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, all of whom missed the Gold Cup.
For the most part, the Americans have tried to play down the payback angle, with one notable exception. “Yeah, it’s going to be a revenge match,” U.S. defender Reggie Cannon said Tuesday. “I believe we have just as much talent as they do. It’s going to come down to who plays better. And it’s going to be us this time.
“This game,” Cannon added, “we’re gonna play as if it were the World Cup final.”
Just 21, the FC Dallas right back started in the Gold Cup final, a match he called the biggest of his life, so his enthusiasm makes sense. Other, more experienced members of the U.S. squad took a more measured approach. Still, it’s clear that this match matters across the board.
“It’s something that we love as players, it’s a game that we love to play, it’s a game that the fans love,” said defender Aaron Long. “They won a trophy, and that’s something that we wanted very badly. To get another shot at them so quickly feels good.
“It’s not going to make up for anything but it’s a great test for us,” he continued. “And to get a win would be important for us, I think. We’d really love it.”
Whatever the outcome, the result figures to be close. The Gold Cup final was deadlocked well into the second half before Jonathan dos Santos scored the winner. The three meetings between these teams before that, dating to 2015, were each decided by a single goal.
Still, the U.S. clearly has something to prove after failing to put its best foot forward last time out. “We could’ve played better,” Berhalter admitted. “I didn’t think we finished our chances well enough. I thought our defensive pressure was too low in the second half. And we need to adjust to those things. And, most importantly, we need to be more proactive when we have the ball. We know that our style of play involves having the ball and disorganizing the opponent with the ball, and we need to do that more.”
The full 26-man U.S. team didn’t convene until Tuesday, but the coaching staff has been preaching that message remotely over the last two months. “We’ve learned from that game and studied it,” Cannon said. “We know what we did wrong.”
They also know what this one means, so-called “friendly” or not.
“Anytime you step on the field and the game is against Mexico, we understand the history of the rivalry, everything that goes into that game,” said veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “Everything about it has a little bit extra. The pace of the game, the intensity, the tackles, the quality — everything about it kind of gets raised a little bit, and so we know that they’ll be prepared.
“They understand what it means to play us. They’ll be right up for it as well.”
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