Two months ago Mexico defeated the US men’s national team 1-0 in Chicago to hoist the Gold Cup trophy and claim regional superiority for the time being. Nothing that happens in their friendly rematch on Friday (8:30 pm ET | FS1, Univision) at MetLife Stadium will change any of that, not yet, at least, and the USMNT know it.
They still keenly want to beat their biggest rivals, even if the idea of “revenge” for that cup final loss is an empty one.
“It's against Mexico and we're always going to take it very serious,” center back Aaron Long told reporters on Monday as the USMNT practiced at the training facility of his club team, the New York Red Bulls. “It's something that we love as players, it's a game that we love to play, it’s a game that the fans love, so it’s important for sure. Every time we play them it’s important.
“They won a gold medal [in July], they won a trophy and that's something that we wanted very badly. To get another shot at them so quickly, it feels good,” he added. “It’s not going to make up for anything, but it’s a great test for us and to get a win would be important for us, we’d really love it.”
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While the players have had club action to focus on over the ensuing two months, that setback at Soldier Field on July 8 marked the most recent competitive action for USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff, giving them plenty of time to chew on the lessons of a tight affair decided by LA Galaxy star Jonathan dos Santos’ second-half strike.
“I didn’t think that we finished our chances well enough. I thought that our defensive pressure got too low in the second half, and we need to adjust those things,” Berhalter said on Monday. “And most importantly, we need to be more proactive when we get the ball. We know that our style of play involves having the ball, disorganizing the opponent with the ball, and we need to do that more.”
The current USMNT squad is a mix of young newcomers and veterans with ample experience of the border rivalry. Few have lived through more big El Tri clashes than goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who’s back in the fold and hoping to compete with Zack Steffen for the starting job.
“One word: Intense,” Guzan said of the long history of US-Mexico showdowns.
“First and foremost you think of Columbus and all the great games there,” he noted, “but then also going down to Azteca and getting a win, getting a point, Michael [Bradley]'s goal from about 45 yards out. So there's a few, but at the same time we've been on the other end of it where things haven’t gone our way.
“So come Friday night it’s another opportunity for this group of players to hopefully stake a claim in that part of history. I wouldn’t necessarily say payback or whatnot from the Gold Cup final, but use this as a real test against a good opponent with good players.”
Guzan will also cross paths again with Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who led his Atlanta United side to MLS Cup glory last year before moving south to take charge of El Tri.
“The game kind of changes a little bit from a club setting to a national-team setting, but at the same time I don’t think his principles have changed that much. He’ll have them ready for sure,” said Guzan.
As his first year in charge of the program winds down, Berhalter is keeping an eye on the big picture, and wants his players to do the same – while still bringing a spirit of pride and aggression to every game.
“A very consistent theme since we’ve been together is to just keep progressing,” he said. “We got to a certain point in the Gold Cup, we want to analyze where we got to and now can we build on that in this next game, in this next phase?”