US tip cap to El Tri: "Everyone is hoping for a Mexico-United States final"

BLAINE, Minn. – While the US men’s national team and archrivals Mexico have had a near-monopoly on Concacaf Gold Cup trophies since the tournament’s inception, the two continental powers have not met in a final since Mexico’s 4-2 victory in 2011.

That perhaps changes the tone between the two traditional adversaries in 2019, to the point where US winger Paul Arriola admits he enjoyed seeing Mexico’s dominance over Cuba in their 7-0 win to open Group A on Saturday.

“It’s good to see them having some success, and I think everyone wants a USA-Mexico final,” Arriola said on Sunday. “Not to say I’m rooting for them, but it’s good to see them playing with the confidence that they have, and the young kids constantly kind of picking up where the older guys are leaving off.”

Much like the USMNT, Mexico are in the midst of their own generational transition under former Atlanta United coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino. In stark contrast to the United States, which famously crashed out of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the previous Mexico generation most recently guided El Tri to another round-of-16 appearance in Russia.

Without the likes of LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Philadelphia’s Marco Fabian, nor Javier “Chichiarito Hernandez or Hector Herrera, Martino’s Mexico has as much of a new look as Gregg Berhalter’s American contingent. But not without high expectations, says US defender Omar Gonzalez.

“I have played with many of those players,” said Gonzalez, who spent four seasons in Liga MX before signing with Toronto FC earlier this month. “With [Rodolfo] Pizarro, with [Erick] Gutierrez, with [Edson] Alvarez, a bunch of those guys, and I’ve played against them. And they’re a very talented group.

“I’m sure they’re just taking it the same way we are, just taking it game by game. Everyone is hoping for a Mexico-United States final, but as we’ve seen in years past, if you don’t respect the team you go up against, you can fall short.”

For Arriola, it’s not only a familiarity with players he knew from his previous time at Club Tijuana in Liga MX, but also with Martino, whose Atlanta teams played his D.C. United six times in their first two seasons.

Arriola’s D.C. sides won four of those games, including all three during the 2017 league campaign. Yet in observing relatively up close how Martino built an expansion club into an MLS Cup winner, Arriola also sees why “Tata” might be a good fit for Mexico at this point in time.

“I think it just was a different challenge for him, a challenge that he obviously wanted to take, and I think a good one,” Arriola said.

“It’s a lot like what we’re talking about [with the USMNT],” he continued. “A lot of young guys coming in. And how important are they going to be and can they pick up where the older generation is kind of leaving off. And I think Tata can be a good fit for that.”