US national team head coach Gregg Berhalter: Mexico are vulnerable

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Without stars like Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Hector Herrera and others, it is a considerably different Mexico squad the US men’s national team will face Sunday in the Concacaf Gold Cup final (9 pm ET | FS1, Univision, UDN) in the teams’ first meeting at this stage since 2011.

However, El Tri is coached by one very familiar face to most of the US’ MLS-based contingent.

Before Tata Martino assumed the highest profile — and arguably most stressful — coaching job on the continent, he was busy building Atlanta United into an instant power in a two-year tenure that culminated in winning the 2018 MLS Cup.

In the process, he left behind a blueprint that Toronto FC and US midfielder Michael Bradley said he’s replicated in helping Mexico reach the final.

“When I watch them right now, I think that Tata Martino has done a very good job of putting his imprint on the team in a short amount of time,” Bradley said after the USMNT’s 3-1 semifinal victory over Jamaica. “You watch them and you see a Tata Martino team. They’re mobile, They’re dynamic. They are very good in transition when they can win balls and get guys moving forward. They look to press and be aggressive.”

U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter admitted his staff may have begun looking ahead even before Wednesday night’s win.

“We’ve already started watching [Mexico], the last couple days,” Berhalter said. “It’s a good team, quality players, a good team concept, with a lot of intensity that they play with, and they can hurt teams. Having said that, they’re also vulnerable, and we’ll plan to hurt them as well.”

Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, who has served mainly as a second-half sub at this tournament, believes the battle ground is the center of the park.

“We have to really control the middle of the field, because that’s where they turn and they play in behind,” Roldan said. “And then offensively, we’ve been scoring in multiple ways. We have to keep that up and keep moving the ball as quickly as possible.”

Berhalter has seen plenty of Martino squads over the past two seasons, losing all four regular season MLS meetings between the coaches, but seeing his Columbus Crew SC advance past Atlanta on penalties in the Knockout Round of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Some in Berhalter’s younger core of American players got their taste of the US-Mexico fixture here at Nissan Stadium in September.

That friendly, a 1-0 US victory, was perhaps best remembered by a colorful incident between American defender Matt Miazga and Mexican midfielder Diego Lainez. This time, the former New York Red Bulls center back expects an even bigger challenge.

“First things first, it’s a final,” Miazga said. “We’re going to expect a hard-nosed game, very competitive. Obviously it’s a rivalry in the past. We’re going to go out there with full confidence, full energy to get the job done.”

This time, the USMNT are entering the region’s biggest rivalry thanks partly to Christian Pulisic’s brace against Jamaica. And no one’s happier about facing Mexico in the final than him.

“These are the games I look forward to most,” Pulisic said. “Mexico-USA in the final of the Gold Cup, there’s not much better. This is what I dream about.”


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