Given an almost full-fledged El Tris, the US youngsters somehow managed the impossible for a second trophy of the summer
The kids did it.
This shouldn’t be the end of the U.S. men’s national team. This Gold Cup run was about “gathering information”, about the development of the next generation. In a way, winning was secondary to learning at first.
But the US did both. Weakened squad? Inexperienced players? Does not matter. The Stars and Stripes are officially the kings of CONCACAF these days.
If that wasn’t clear after the US A team beat Mexico in full strength in the Nations League in June, it is now after a USMNT team full of second-tier veterans and rising stars beat what was almost a full-fledged El Tri. Thanks to a last-keep goal after a hard-fought 120 minutes, the youngsters of the USMNT dominated again sovereignly.
This team played without Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna. But it had Miles Robinson, whose incredible 117th-minute winner in the second half of stoppage time burned him forever into USMNT lore. It had Kellyn Acosta, whose Man of the Match-worthy performance would make even N’Golo Kante blush.
It had Matt Turner, Matthew Hoppe, Gyasi Zardes, George Bello and many others paving the way for what is perhaps the most incredible USMNT Gold Cup run to date.
Kudos to head coach Gregg Berhalter, who believed the kids were ready to compete with the best that El Tri had to offer. And kudos to these players for showing him that he is right and that the US player pool is deeper and more talented than ever.
What a night in Las Vegas, even if some of those in the field are too young to embrace Sin City. What a night, what a performance, what a moment.
The duel between the USA and Mexico on Sunday evening was very different from the Nations League final in June.
It didn’t have the same flavor, the same physicality, the same chaos. It didn’t start with the fireworks of an early goal or the unpredictability of multiple team-wide brawls.
But in the end everything was excited and in the end it had the same result.
The United States will thank Robinson for this as the Atlanta United defender’s 117th-minute goal proved everything they needed. An incredible throw-in from Acosta, an even better header from Robinson. That was the moment that defined this game and tournament for a USMNT who just didn’t quite understand what it was all about.
This is a team that probably should have been here but probably shouldn’t have. They narrowly escaped several games, but Mexico should be a bridge too far. But they kept fighting and even if they didn’t come out victorious, that night they proved they were equal to Mexico in every way.
As the game progressed, it became clear that this game would be available for both teams. The two teams exchanged chance after chance, with neither team being able to convert that chance into a game-changing goal.
Paul Arriola was on several of those chances to the end, with his first caramel off the post in the 26th minute. He had an even better chance in the 74th minute when Alfredo Talavera miraculously parried his shot from two meters.
Mexico had many looks of their own not to excel, with USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner thwarting many of them with yet another star performance.
Aside from missed opportunities, Sunday’s game went largely according to plan for both managers. Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino’s team retained the vast majority of possession and generally controlled the game. Berhalter’s USMNT team, however, opted for the rope-a-dope and said strong defensively while trying to take advantage of the shaky Mexican line of defense.
And in the end, these dueling schedules and wasted opportunities added extra time. And that extra time led to another classic ending to another classic rivalry game.
With this, the USMNT program from Berhalter receives a second signature moment within a few months. It gives these young players another building block for the future and gives everyone involved in this program even more confidence in qualifying for the World Cup.
It’s been several years since the USMNT had a moment like this. From the lows of that night in Trinidad and Tobago to the ups and downs of the rebuilding that followed, it’s been too long since the U.S. had reason to feel this good.
And they have every reason to. With two very different teams with two very different groups of players, the USA went 2-0 against Mexico. Dos a cero again.
It was another night of wellbeing for the Kings of CONCACAF. And if that night was a clue, it might just be the first of many.