Jonathan dos Santos goal celebration vs. Paraguay
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan dos Santos: I'm expecting Mexico to face USMNT in Gold Cup final

CARSON, Calif. -- Jonathan dos Santos expects the coming Concacaf Gold Cup to follow the normal pattern. Either Mexico or the United States will capture the championship, as they have in all but one of the first 14 editions, and they'll likely face off in a title-game showdown.

That's the prediction with every Gold Cup, so the LA Galaxy midfielder -- the lone Major League Soccer representative on former Atlanta United manager Tata Martino's El Tri squad, with teammate Uriel Antuna on standby -- is hardly making a bold presumption. Yet the US and Mexico have met in just five finals, the last in 2011.

This year's format, following a boost from 12 to 16 nations, is designed to create such a faceoff July 7 at Solider Field in Chicago: The favorites can meet only in the final. Several other nations -- Costa Rica, Honduras and Jamaica foremost among them -- aim to disrupt such plans, and dos Santos knows they could. He just doesn't believe they will.

“I think that with every tournament, national teams are more and more prepared,” he told in Spanish before reporting to Martino's camp ahead of the Gold Cup's opening doubleheader, in which Mexico takes on Cuba, next Saturday at the Rose Bowl. “There's not a lot of difference between levels from one national team to another.

“I think the United States has a very good national team with talented and young players. I think they will do a great tournament, and it will certainly be between them and us on who will be crowned champion of the Gold Cup. I think as time passes, [the US is] getting close to Mexico.”

The US during Bruce Arena's first tenure as head coach pushed past El Tri, most notably in the 2002 World Cup Round of 16 battle, and won two Gold Cups -- in 2002 and 2004 -- to just one for Mexico. Each team has won three since, with the US claiming the last title two years ago.

Dos Santos, 29, made his Gold Cup debut in 2015, when Mexico beat Jamaica in the title game, but wasn't part of a younger, more experimental side that finished third in 2017. He made his World Cup debut last year.

“I head into it like I did the first time I played a Gold Cup, which is the one we won, and in the end Mexico are the favorites to win in Concacaf,” dos Santos said. “And yes, it's true that everyday there's more national teams that are better prepared in all aspects, but we are heading in with high hopes to win it.”

Mexico will miss Philadelphia Union midfielder Marco Fabian, who didn't make the final cut, and Antuna is on the outside looking in. They'll also miss forward Carlos Vela, who has scored 16 goals and assisted 10 more in just 16 games as LAFC sit atop the standings with a nine-point lead heading into the league's Gold Cup break. Vela turned down the call-up for personal reasons.

“Carlos will always be missed, obviously,” dos Santos said. “He is a great player, and he is showing it here in MLS. Every game he plays, he is standing out. But in the end, everyone has their personal matters, and like I have always said, he will always be missed at the national team.

“He's a great friend, a great teammate, and I want the best for him. Carlos Vela in or out of the national team will always be Carlos Vela, an amazing player and he will always be a great player.”