The U.S. men's national team will play its biggest game since it
failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup when it plays Mexico Sunday in the Gold Cup final.
It's the USA against Mexico, its archrival.
It's the USA against Mexico before a sellout crowd at Chicago's Soldier Field.
It's the USA against Mexico for the first time in a Gold Cup final since 2011.
It's the USA against Mexico, both teams with new coaches trying to leave an imprint on their teams.
If the USA wins, it will not erase the memory of Couva and the 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago. Only after a long run in the World Cup will many fans forgive the USA.
For now, a win will confirm the progress the USA has made under new coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff over the last seven months.
"When you know you're playing in a stadium like this, with a crowd like what we're going to have, that's motivation enough," Berhalter said of the game's significance. "Having said that, we know there's a rivalry. We have a lot of respect for Mexico, we see them as a leader in our region, and it's a great opportunity to see where we can stack up. We know these games are tense, we know these games are heated, and it's a good experience for our group."
After 18 friendlies -- 12 under Dave Sarachan and six under Berhalter -- plus five competitive matches at the Gold Cup, Sunday's match will tell us a lot.
"I think you need a sustained effort over the course of the game," he said. "You need good game management of the team. You need to perform well over the course of the 90 minutes or 120 minutes."
Sunday's final will be the sixth between the two teams. The USA has defeated Mexico only once -- in their only Gold Cup meeting at Soldier Field in 2007.
El Tri has struggled in the knockout stage -- it beat Costa Rica in a shootout and needed a penalty kick in overtime to eliminate Haiti -- but it is the standard by which the USA is measured in Concacaf.
"We know Mexico poses different challenges than other teams," Berhalter said. "We know they're technically very good. We also think that there's going to be stages where we need to keep [the] ball. There's two sides to it. One is maintaining possession, and other is disorganizing the opponent with the ball. I still think we'll be able to do that even if we don't have the majority of the possession."
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire