Despite score in El Tri loss, Berhalter sees USMNT progress from Gold Cup

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It was another defeat against Mexico, the most lopsided scoreline in the rivalry since the defeat in the 2009 Gold Cup final at the old Giants Stadium. 

A 3-0 loss in the 70th all-time meeting between the US men’s national team and their fiercest foe at MetLife Stadium Friday night might be a bitter pill for fans to swallow. But for coach Gregg Berhalter, it’s a more positive result than the Gold Cup final two months ago, also won by Mexico, 1-0. 

“From my perspective, and you guys are going to think I'm crazy, I'm happier about this game than the Gold Cup final,” Berhalter said. “Because in the Gold Cup final, I felt like all we did was play the ball long. And that was our only solution. And now, at least we tried to play in the way we’re envisioning.”

Berhalter said he can live with the mistakes made in the back because his team was “being brave with the ball.” 

The tactical plan, he said, was to have midfielders Weston McKennie, Alfredo Morales and Wil Trapp play deeper, to connect them to the backline and then open up spaces in the pockets for Christian Pulisic and Tyler Boyd to exploit. 

But Mexico countered by sending their wingers to the US center backs and their fullbacks to the US fullbacks. When previously dealing with that pressure, as was the case in the Gold Cup final, the USMNT went long. 

Tonight, they continued to search for solutions. 

“To me, it's a great example for the guys to keep working, keep pushing, keep making progress,” Berhalter said. “Today I saw guys that at least continually wanted to try to keep playing.”

Aaron Long said there was a discussion in the locker room at halftime on whether to play more direct, but the decision was made to stick to the way Berhalter wanted them to play. 

“It’s tough in moments, but that's how we're going to grow, that’s how we're going to learn,” Long said. “That is the game plan. We don't want to just abandon ship because it's not working. We’ve got to find solutions. There's plenty of things that we could have done better to get out. We'll look at that film, and we'll grow from it.”

It’s not likely to sit well with most fans, but Zack Steffen paraphrased the line coined by the Philadelphia 76ers.

“It’s a process,” Steffen said. “We have our team goals, we have our style goals, we want to play. And we just got to keep going. These things are going to happen, it's going to make us stronger. We're not going to give up. It’s a process.”