There is an uneasy feeling revolving around the United States men’s national team since its program-shattering failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and it’s a vibe that may not be erased until the Yanks have punched their tickets to Qatar and 2022.
But there will still be plenty of chances for the Yanks to quiet those nation-wide nerves.
And Sunday is, in fact, a big one.
Yes, there is undoubtedly a question of CONCACAF’s strength from top-to-bottom, and it’s fine to discount the USMNT’s group and wins over Curacao (unimpressive) and Jamaica (the opposite).
But few are debating whether Mexico is the real deal, even a bit short-handed and in the early throes of the Tata Martino era. After all, the Yanks are at lesser strength than their heated rivals and Gregg Berhalter’s tenure is just as young.
Martino’s era, by the way, is going really well. El Tri is 9-0 on his watch and the record includes wins of Chile, and a Venezuela side which dominated the U.S.
Moving that winning run to double digits by beating your now-rival federation that didn’t even bother to call you? We imagine Tata is ready for this one.
So as Berhalter brings his 8W-1D-2L record into a Soldier Field which is likely to feel similar to an away game (perhaps neutral at best).
The opportunity is huge for both Berhalter as a coach and his program. He’s rolled out a 4-1-4-1 since the Venezuela match but Mexico has been vexed by Martinique, Costa Rica, and Haiti by 4-2-3-1 formations against Martino’s attacking 4-3-3.
Whether Berhalter will do that will be the subject of the match preview, of course, but just as we noted that the Trinidad and Tobago group stage game meant more to the players and program that they’d like to let on — at least until after the game — you can bet the men are defiantly relishing the return of their underdog status, even if earned in Couva and embarrassing fashion.
Whether an illusion or not, topping Tata and El Tri would mean plenty to the Yanks’ CONCACAF status ahead of World Cup qualifying. To meet Mexico on seven Gold Cup titles without the nation’s best wrecking ball (Tyler Adams), center back (John Brooks), and Premier League status fullback (DeAndre Yedlin) would be truly remarkable and worth one magnificent feather in Berhalter’s cap.
Yes, Sunday matters a great deal — win or lose — but losing doesn’t carry as much weight as winning aside from the fact that the Yanks would have allowed Mexico to move two Gold Cup crowns ahead of them. After all, the CONCACAF Nations League is right around the corner and another chance for the USMNT to grow into its shoes.
Tactical, emotionally, spiritually… this is a brilliant opportunity for Berhalter’s men. Over 90 minutes at home in Illinois against a Mexican side better than even money with the bookies, will they seize it?