US men also seek soccer title, face Mexico for Gold Cup
CHICAGO (AP) — Remember the U.S. men’s soccer team?
It’s also playing for a trophy on Sunday, taking on Mexico at Soldier Field in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Gone from the national sports consciousness since its October 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago ended a streak of seven straight World Cup appearances, the men’s program is trying to regroup under new coach Gregg Berhalter.
The American women play the Netherlands in France at 11 a.m. EDT, chasing their fourth world championship, and they are livid they have to share the spotlight with the Copa America final between host Brazil and Peru at 4 p.m. and the U.S. men seeking their seventh Gold Cup title at 9:15 p.m.
“I look at it differently. I think that this is an opportunity to be Soccer Day in America,” Berhalter said. “When you think about the opportunity for the women to win the World Cup in the morning and then you get to I think party for half the afternoon, then you get to take a little nap, and then you get up, you go to the game and you enjoy the final of Gold Cup.”
The men have outscored opponents 15-1 in five matches, while the women have a 24-3 advantage in six.
“Our whole focus is on us,” forward Jordan Morris said. “We’re wishing them all the best, of course, and we want them to win the championship, as well, but we don’t think about that too much, just really what we can do to come out and win our game.”
He would have preferred not to play on the same day.
“Ideally I guess that would be great that they get their own focus being in a World Cup final and we’ll get our own and Copa America gets their own,” Morris said.
The U.S. is 6-4 in Gold Cup finals, beating Mexico in 2007 and losing in 1993, ’98, ‘09 and ’11. The Americans won their only consecutive regional titles in 2005 under Bruce Arena and 2007 under Bob Bradley.
Morris, whose 88th-minute goal lifted the U.S. over Jamaica in the 2017 final, is among six holdovers from that roster, joined by defenders Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez, midfielders Michael Bradley and Paul Arriola, and forward Jozy Altidore.
Led by 20-year-midfielder Christian Pulisic, the U.S. is mostly a young team with a sprinkling of veterans and is testing 24-year-old goalkeeper Zack Steffen in a tournament for the first time. Pulisic, who reports to Chelsea next week, has enhanced his status as by far the top American player.
“When I think about this month for him, it’s been a lot of personal development,” Berhalter said, “in terms of just him blossoming with his personality within the group, his importance to the team on the field. The skills haven’t changed, right, from a month, but in terms of his role, what he’s comfortable with, how he’s embracing his role within the team and his role on and off the field, it’s been really nice to see.”
The Gold Cup has been Berhalter’s first extended time with his full player pool and the only lengthy one before World Cup qualifying starts next year.
“I’m obviously super-excited for the challenge,” Pulisic said.
Neither team is at full strength. The U.S. is missing right-side starters DeAndre Yedlin and Tyler Adams, plus central defender John Brooks, all because of injuries.
El Tri, in its first tournament under new coach Tata Martino, is going for its eighth Gold Cup title. It had a more onerous path to the final that included a penalty-kicks victory over Costa Rica and an extra-time win over Haiti.
Mexico’s roster has just five players who started the round-of-16 loss to Brazil at last year’s World Cup: goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, defenders Edson Álvarez and Carlos Salcedo, and midfielders Andrés Guardado and Jesús Gallardo. Among the missing are all three forwards who started against the Selecao: Javier Hernández, Carlos Vela and Hirving Lozano.
“We do miss these players,” Martino said through a translator. “We play with the soccer players that respond to the call.”
U.S. players hope American fans are celebrating even before the kickoff, savoring a victory by the women over the Dutch.
“Let’s hope we both win the finals and make it a historical day in the history of American soccer,” winger Tyler Boyd said.