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Opportunity awaits Berhalter, USMNT v. Mexico

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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.

[ MORE: USMNT-Jamaica recap | 3 things ]

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?

How about Mexico? Martino posts pair of blowout wins

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Fairly or unfairly, the managerial hires of the United States men’s national team and Mexican NT will be scrutinized and measured against each other more than usual.

Gregg Berhalter and Tata Martino both came from Major League Soccer, albeit with quite different resumes, and both were available to the United States Soccer Federation before general manager Earnie Stewart and the crew settled on Berhalter.

[ MORE: Takeaways from USMNT break ]

The former Columbus Crew man’s early days with the USMNT have been well-covered here, with the Yanks unbeaten in four friendlies following a Tuesday draw with Chile, but about Mexico?

It’s going very, very well.

Martino, of course, is taking over a potentially golden generation of El Tri, and isn’t making his first foray into international management, but there’s little doubt he’s made a tremendous first impression with Mexico.

It wasn’t stylish on Day One, but El Tri was clinical in a 3-1 defeat of Chile which saw Wolves striker Raul Jimenez lead a run of three goals in 13 minutes and goals on all three shots on target.

The second match was more of a runaway, with Mexico scoring three times in the first 24 minutes against Paraguay before the visitors went down to 10 men through a Miguel Almiron red card in a 4-2 El Tri win.

Edson Alvarez, 21, is the only player Martino started in both matches, as Mexico flaunted its depth in the impressive wins.

About the only thing that didn’t go well for Martino was this: (video)

MLS Cup Final preview: Timbers prepared to strike

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Things are going to get real loud in Georgia by the time 8 p.m. ET rolls around on Saturday night.

That’s when Atlanta United tangles with Portland Timbers, the Georgian outfit a heavy favorite to win its first MLS Cup and send Tata Martino, Miguel Almiron, and probably a few others away from United as all-time heroes (though they already qualify given their star power and the new nature of the club).

[ MORE: PST chats with Zack Steffen ]

Standing in their way? One of the most storied clubs in modern American soccer, guided by a first-time MLS manager whose outfoxed plenty of coaches in his day. Giovanni Savarese may not carry the name accolades of Martino’s but the job he’s done in Portland has surprised many and he deserves to have a shot of winning MLS Cup.

And lest we forget that Martino has been out-foxed in finals before: The 2013 Copa del Rey final and three Copa America finals, with the Spanish Super Cup for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid standing as his big final victory. The Copa America finals were Argentina twice losing to Chile in PKs, and with Paraguay blown out by highly-favored Uruguay; The Copa del Rey was Barca’s late loss to Real Madrid in Valencia.

Savarese has won three NASL titles with the New York Cosmos, who were admittedly the favorites each time. And his Timbers have won an MLS Cup away from home, claiming the 2015 final against Columbus with several players still in green and white on the roster (Diego Valeri, Jorge Villafana, Diego Chara, Lucas Melano, Jake Gleeson).

So, yes, Atlanta is the favorite to win, but don’t sleep on Portland in a one-off game with plenty of rest and time to prepare for a tactical challenge.


Regular season

Portland – 15W-10L-9T – +6 GD – 4W-8L-5T away

Atlanta – 21W-7L-6T – +26 GD – 11W-2L-4T home


Head-to-head

June 24 — D 1-1 in Atlanta — Goals: Mabiala (32′), Gressel (56′)


Playoffs

Atlanta
Beat NYCFC 4-1 (1-0, 3-1)
Beat RBNY 3-1 (3-0, 0-1)

Portland
Beat Dallas 2-1
Beat Seattle 4-4 (2-1, 2-3)
Beat Sporting KC 3-2 (0-0, 3-2)


Reports say Martino is still Mexico’s man; Did Garber confirm it?

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It’s been no secret that Gerardo “Tata” Martino was probably going to leave Atlanta United after his second season in charge of the bunch.

So reports that he’s taking the Mexico men’s national team job are nothing new, but leave it to — Ives Galarcep’s words not mine — MLS commissioner Don Garber to basically confirm his hire.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings | 3 things ]

Assuming it all comes true, this is going to be the subplot of the USMNT-Mexico rivalry for some time. There’s little doubt Mexican is knee-deep in its golden generation compared to the USMNT, which is just reaching the potential of it with Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams.

After these quotes, it’s very difficult to believe Mexico’s next coach will anyone but the successful Argentina, Barcelona, and Paraguay boss.

Men in Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s day at Chelsea, stylish Arsenal, Tata leaving ATL

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Rog and Davo break down Chelsea’s last gasp draw against Manchester United and Jose Mourinho’s contentious return to Stamford Bridge. Plus, wins for City and Liverpool, Arsenal’s poetic football, and Tata is saying goodbye to the ATL.

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