The 2019 Gold Cup, Gregg Berhalter’s first competitive tournament in charge of the US men’s national team, ended with a taut 1-0 loss to Mexico in the event’s championship final, in which the United States actually posted a higher expected goals number.

A few weeks later the USMNT lost to El Tri again, routed 3-0 in a high-profile friendly in which Berhalter and the Yanks – prioritizing their long-term tactical objectives – insisted on methodically playing out of the back in the face of Tata Martino’s withering press and were duly punished for it.

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Now Berhalter and his group aim for redemption as the old rivals meet again in the final of the inaugural Concacaf Nations League in Denver Sunday night (9 pm ET | CBS Sports Network, TUDN, Paramount+ in US).

“We’re really looking forward to a final. And this is the third time we’ve played Mexico, and we want to get a win,” said the coach in his pre-match press conference on Saturday night.

“We want nothing more than to win this trophy.”

The most notable development of the matchday -1 availability concerned the status of defensive midfielder Tyler Adams, who has been battling a back injury for weeks, his elite ground coverage and ball-winning abilities much missed. Adams also happens to have scored the game-winner in the USMNT's last win over Mexico in 2018.

“Regarding Tyler, he's recovered and ready to go,” said Berhalter. “So for us it's about making the decision on if he'll start the game or not.”

The coach argued the USMNT’s vulnerabilities in transition against Switzerland and Honduras were bigger than one player or position, however. A CBS Soccer report suggests a formation change may be in the offing as a result.

“Of course when you talk about a player like Tyler Adams, you would have the tendency to say you want him on the field, but I think the deficiencies weren't due to personnel, I think it was due to structure, I really do,” said Berhalter. “Some of our attacks and some of our positioning and some of the movement led to us being unbalanced. And it's not just that having Tyler in there’s going to solve anything, it's [that] we need to be better balanced as a team.

“When [fullback] Sergino [Dest]’s attacking, we need to balance with a midfielder, fullback and another midfielder. The back line did a great job dealing with all those transitions, but we can't rely on them all the time. We need to have better structure to avoid those plays.”

The chess match between Berhalter and Martino, who previously matched wits in MLS with Columbus Crew and Atlanta United, respectively, is another engaging subplot, made juicier by reports Martino was interested in the USMNT job in 2018, but not seriously considered by the U.S. Soccer Federation.

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The Yanks troubled El Tri with direct play in the Gold Cup, but failed to convert their chances, while Mexico feasted on US errors and imprecision in the friendly win.

“About the Gold Cup final, what I realized from that is you need to finish your chances, right?” said Berhalter. “And that's what finals are about; finals are really tight games. There's going to be moments where you suffer in the game, there's going to be moments that aren't going your way. And it's just about withstanding those moments, and then when you have opportunities, really taking advantage of them.

“They certainly brought a lot of intensity to that [friendly] game,” he noted of the September 2019 rematch at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. “For us, it was a good demonstration of how aggressive they can be pressing, and also where the spaces are available for us. And that's probably the biggest takeaway in that game. But it's also different personnel now. It's going to be probably eight different players on the field in the game. So anything can happen.”

Imposing center back John Brooks has emerged as a veteran leader for this young USMNT and on Saturday he shrugged off the semifinal difficulties against Honduras as a crash course in Concacaf culture for the program’s newer faces.

“We fight for each other, we battle for each other, we stand up for each other,” vowed the VfL Wolfsburg defender.

“It’s never going to be easy, every game is a battle. So it was against Honduras. But all that counts is that we won the game and we're in the final against Mexico. And we are ready to go.”

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