The youth vs. experience angle has dominated the build-up to Sunday’s Concacaf Nations League final, but this isn’t your usual set of battles between young guys versus older guys.
The U.S. Men’s National Team’s youngsters are, to a man, coming off club seasons in Europe’s top leagues having played heavy minutes against top-level competition. Of course, one our two seasons at the highest level isn’t going to cancel out the edge Mexico has, with its plethora of seasoned veterans who have hundreds of top-level club games and significantly more international appearances than most of the American squad.
We still don’t know what setup Berhalter will go with, or Tata Martino for that matter, but of both teams go with 4-3-3 systems as expected, then Sunday’s final could have several enticing match-ups.
Here are the key match-ups to watch in Sunday’s final:
Edson Alvarez vs. Weston McKennie
Two of the biggest stars square off in the middle of the park, and while they may not necessarily be matched up all the time, the USMNT will want to try and keep Alvarez occupied by attacking forays from McKennie and whoever starts next to him.
Alvarez is a high-level midfielder, and he has the skill to neutralize most opponents, but if Berhalter slips Gio Reyna into a central role, then Alvarez could find himself overrun.
Hirving Lozano vs. Reggie Cannon
Lozano is Mexico’s most dangerous attacking threat, and Cannon is the USMNT’s best defensive fullback, so starting Cannon makes sense. Cannon has faced Mexico in a final before, in the 2019 Gold Cup final, so he shouldn’t be wowed by the moment, but Lozano is a handful for any defender.
Could the USMNT shift to a 3-4-3 to better deal with Lozano? It seems unlikely given how few minutes the group has in that system, but if Tyler Adams really can’t start or play, then Berhalter may have to consider it.
Gio Reyna vs. Jesus Gallardo
Wherever Reyna lines up, he will be a handful, and the matchup on the right wing with Gallardo is a compelling one. Gallardo is much more an attacking fullback than defensive fullback, so Reyna could have his way with the Monterrey fullback.
That said, Gallardo’s forward runs could force Reyna to spend more time defending, which could lead to Berhalter to consider playing someone else on the right wing, like Brenden Aaronson or Tim Weah, and sliding Gio Reyna into central midfield.
John Brooks vs. Alan Pulido
Henry Martin’s forgettable performance in the semifinal, coupled with Pulido’s more impressive showing, should earn the Sporting KC striker the start, and if Pulido does get the nod, he will face a physical force in Brooks.
The Wolfsburg centerback was outstanding against Honduras, and his partnership with Mark McKenzie looked like they had played together for years. Brooks will need to handle Pulido in order to allow McKenzie to help with the defending of Lozano.
Sergiño Dest vs. Uriel Antuna
If Dest starts at left back, then he will see plenty of Antuna, and the speedy Chivas Guadalajara winger could cause some problems for the Barcelona defender.
Dest’s connection with Christian Pulisic could be one of the big keys to a USMNT victory and could force Antuna to defend more. Luis Rodriguez will have his hands full, and will need Antuna to either find success pressuring the USMNT backline, or make sure to get back and help or risk having the Americans overrun Rodriguez.