PHILADELPHIA — It took them nearly a month, but on a humid Sunday night in Philadelphia, Mexico finally showed up.
El Tri saved the best for last, finally putting together a comprehensive performance in their 3-1 dismantling of Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final. The win followed a series of group-stage and knockout round efforts of varied caliber, with no particular performance demonstrating any large measure of quality.
On Sunday, the Mexicans put those results firmly in the rear view, finally looking like the confederation giants who were co-favorites heading into the tournament. Though the surprising Jamaicans enjoyed stretches of possession in both halves, they struggled to produce any real danger in front of goal and, at the other end of the field, suffered a series of defensive breakdowns, seemingly more than a bit overwhelmed by the Mexican attack.
After the match, Miguel Herrera — who just days ago looked to be on the chopping block as his side needed more than a bit of luck to wade towards the final — looked quite relieved, meeting the media in a packed conference room at Lincoln Financial Field.
"We’re all very happy,” said Herrera after thanking his federation’s president and the Mexican supporters who accounted for most of the 66,830 in attendance on Sunday. “This was a very cohesive performance.
"We did very, very well today. The game was managed and executed very well against a very, very strong rival. We want to congratulate Jamaica – it’s impressive how far they’ve come. But this is just a step. We’re not thinking about this victory anymore; we have an extremely important matchup in October to think about. We still have more to go, we can’t just take it easy right now.”
Mexico’s path to the final was paved with lukewarm performances and, more than anything, controversy. Late penalty calls against Costa Rica in their quarterfinal encounter and Panama in the semis appeared dubious to many observers, while El Tri underwhelmed in other matches. On Sunday, Herrera was asked whether he felt satisfied with his side’s performance in the tournament as a whole.
"Of course we’d love to have everything all rosy,” said Herrera. "Everybody would love to have everything rosy. That’s not how the world works. There are always problems, difficulties that happen and different situations that arise, situations you have to deal with as they come. We’re accustomed to that.
"We left all of the negativity and the past performances behind tonight,” he continued. There were moments when our side played with a great deal of concentration and determination on the ball. We got into the rhythm we’d looked to get in and managed the game well, and we’re very happy with the result."
The victory in Philadelphia on Sunday sets up a CONCACAF showdown with some heavy implications: Mexico will meet the US at the Rose Bowl on October 9, the two sides battling for a berth in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. Mexico underwhelmed at this edition of the Gold Cup, but the USMNT were perhaps the true surprise of the tourney, crashing out in the semis and then suffering a further blow with a PK shootout loss to Panama in the third-place match.
Herrera, however, doesn’t see the USMNT as a particularly vulnerable side.
“Obviously, we’re looking for the win,” he said. "We always are obligated to win a game like this. It’s the US, who we know are a very strong team in our region, a team that takes care of business. We’re going to give it our all.
“We have a FIFA date in September that will help us prepare, we’ll gather the best players that we can and hopefully select our strongest 23 for the playoff in October."