For many of the current U.S. Men’s National Team players, Sunday’s rivalry showdown against Mexico was the first of their careers, but Gregg Berhalter’s side gained several valuable lessons from an exciting Concacaf Nations League Finals triumph.
The USMNT claimed a first-ever Nations League title in Colorado on Sunday night, edging El Tri 3-2 and winning a first trophy overall since 2017. While many of the current start on the USMNT roster got to celebrate domestic trophies with their clubs this season, the importance of beating Mexico and drawing them even closer to the top spot in Concacaf is something that should benefit this team going forward.
“It was important for this group to experience something like this,” Berhalter said post match. “We need to learn how to win these games. These games are very difficult, for us it was about having a game plan and executing it, but also its about the fight and spirit. To think we went down in the second minute it forced us to power forward and chase the game.”
“I give the guys a ton of credit for laying it all on the field and showing hearts of champions. They deserve tons of credit.”
It wasn’t similar to other United States-Mexico encounters on the count the game went to extra time, saw VAR rule in favor of two penalty kick decisions, and a backup goalkeeper come off the bench to make a 119th minute penalty kick save, but it did bring the same intensity and atmosphere as most rivalry showdowns between the two teams.
The USMNT overcame plenty of adversity, from fighting back from a second minute deficit to tying things up before the end of the second half. Ethan Horvath stepped in and made four key saves after Zack Steffen went off with a knee injury, while young stars Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Gio Reyna all contributed goals on the big stage.
After giving Tata Martino’s side only its fourth defeat since the Argentine took over in 2019, spirits are high heading into a busy second half of the year.
“I think it’s a huge step for this group,” midfielder Sebastian Lletget said. “I think it gives us more belief that we can really move forward and play with some of the best teams. Mexico is a good team we know that, but it’s about who wants it more. Today we showed that we did want it more. It will go down as one of the best U.S.-Mexico games for sure.”
Like past matchups between the Concacaf rivals, there was a lot of energy and plenty of confrontations between the groups of players. There was eight combined yellow cards between the two teams, while El Tri midfielder Hector Herrera was lucky to not see red for a pair of dangerous incidents involving McKennie and substitute Timothy Weah.
El Tri head coach Martino was also sent off after putting his hands on lead referee John Petty at the VAR booth following his decision to upheld a penalty kick decision in the 109th minute. It was exactly what you would expect from a cup final in terms of emotions and it should help prepare this young USMNT group for both the Concacaf Gold Cup and World Cup Qualifying later this year.
“The game against Honduras prepared us very well and we had to handle our emotions in that game too, and for some of us it was the first time,” midfielder Weston McKennie said. “Having a game against Mexico there was already emotions there, already intensity. To be able to handle it the way we did, to pull out a win was very important.
“As you guys can see, a lot of crowds and pushing and shoving. They seem to like to grab my neck [McKennie’s neck was grabbed by Herrera during a scrum in extra time]. It’s a rivalry thats been there for generations and will carry on for years to come. We got the upper hand today and we hope it stays that way going forward.”