The Gold Cup final is almost here with the United States and Mexico facing off in Las Vegas on Sunday night. Here's how to watch. The Americans are hoping to claim the trophy for the first time since 2017, while Mexico hope to make it back-to-back Gold Cup titles while avenging the Nations League final loss to the United States in June.
Ahead of kickoff, with each team undefeated in the competition, here are three things to watch:
1. The U.S. defense has to be more in sync
If you glance at the match scores or deeper into the box scores, you'll see a U.S. team that has won all five of its Gold Cup matches and only given up one goal. That is an average of 0.2 goals per game, better than any other team in the tournament. It sounds good, but numbers can be deceiving. The truth is, the U.S. has not been very sharp at all in defense. According to TruMedia, their expected goals against is at 5.82, meaning they should probably have conceded at least a goal per game. Part of why they haven't has been the exceptional play of Matt Turner in goal, with opponents also being just horribly wasteful (see Qatar penalty kick in semifinals).
Against Mexico, a team that has three games of multiple goals to USA's one, the American defense has to be better. The biggest issue has been the defensive positioning, which has led to having to sweat out narrow wins over Canada and Haiti.
Let's take a look early on against Qatar in the semis, for example. Here, a poor giveaway by James Sands allowed Qatar to quickly go on the counter. Sands, marked inside the white circle below, was caught ball watching and attempting to add in defending the other Qatari player at the top, who was marked by Miles Robinson. As a result, Almoez Ali was left wide open. Shaq Moore, at the bottom (No. 20), was also caught too high up the field, allowing a massive space for Ali to work.
Fortunately for the U.S., Qatar didn't make them pay. But those mistakes cannot happen against a Mexico team that will likely not let those chances slip.
Aside from properly being in position while in a defensive transition, the U.S. also needs to close down better. Hector Herrera's winner against Canada shows just how quickly Mexico can take a hit and kill off a game in the biggest of moments.
Keeping in front of players in position and also closing down at the top of the box will be the key defensive actions needed by Berhalter's side if they want to take home another trophy this summer.
2. Mexico needs more consistency in front of goal
It drives me up a wall to hear fan bases praise their goalkeepers to a point where it almost implies that the defense played well or that it was an all-around performance by the team. It's borderline rude. Two instances come to mind -- the 2014 World Cup where the U.S. lost to Belgium in the round of 16 and the win over Qatar on Thursday. Sure, on that day seven years ago Tim Howard had quite the performance, and Turner did as well on Thursday. But when your goalkeeper is making numerous unbelievable saves, while exciting, it's also a sign that your defense isn't doing much right.
If those chances are easy to come by for Mexico, then this one would be over quickly... if El Tri can be more consistent in front of goal. While Mexico have scored nine goals in five games, they have 92 total shots. They've benefited from penalties, failed to score against a poor Trinidad and Tobago and also had issues with El Salvador. That lack of sharpness in the attacking third could be their down fall.
If the U.S. defense continues to give up too many chances, as shown above, look out. If that trend continues, Mexico will get their chances and should feel comfortable about taking home the title. But another semi off night for El Tri could see them suffer another heart-wrenching defeat to the Americans for the second time in just under two months.
3. Will Berhalter award Zardes or make him super sub?
Despite not being the flashiest or most consistent player, Gyasi Zardes has delivered several times for Berhalter, with them going back to the coach's days at the Columbus Crew. A trusted veteran, he has four international goals since 2019, scoring twice against Canada in the Nations League and then getting goals against Martinique and Qatar in the Gold Cup. The last goal was the one in the semifinals to send his team to the title game after he came off the bench.
So how will Berhalter handle this one? Will he opt to award Zardes with a start or keep him on the bench and allow Matthew Hoppe and Daryl Dike give it another try? The pair have looked solid together and connected a couple times against Qatar. One chance was saved from close and another was offside. But, they have looked in sync, and perhaps Berhalter views it as a chance to let them try to gel. But as it is a final, don't be surprised if Berhalter opts for Zardes, feeling more comfortable in him stepping up in a big spot, then having a chance to go with Hoppe and Dike if it doesn't go as planned.