It isn't often two teams meet in a final and then face
each other two months later.
Friday's USA-Mexico match at the Meadowlands is a chance for Mexico with an even deeper squad than when it won the Gold Cup in July to reassert its recent dominance over its archrival in Concacaf.
And the USA? An opportunity to see if it can put into practice the lessons it learned of its loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final.
The USA played quite well in the first half, but Mexico took control in the second half en route to a 1-0 victory.
“I didn’t think that we finished our chances well enough," said U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter. "I thought that our defensive pressure got too low in the second half, and we need to adjust those things. 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 USA struggled breaking through the Mexico pressure in the second half in Chicago. To counter that, Berhalter plans on starting 18-year-old Sergino Dest, whose ability on the ball and pace give the USA a threat on the outside, whether at right back (ahead of Reggie Cannon) or on the left back (in place of Tim Ream).
"He's doing great in camp," Berhalter said of Dest. "He's going to start the game tomorrow. It's a great opportunity for us ... to give him an opportunity with the first team. That's what's nice about this story."
And Berhalter doesn't want that story to be overshadowed by the talk of whether Dest will commit to the USA or the Netherlands at the senior level.
"It's not about, to me, the dual nationalism of him," the U.S. coach said. "It's about that he's come from our programming and he's performed well. He's really achieved something in this short month at Ajax, and it's nice to be able to reward that."
One other player who will start but whose role is unknown is Christian Pulisic, who started as the No. 10 against Mexico in the Gold Cup final but is destined to play out wide like he does for Chelsea.
"We want to put him in position to be able to help our team and affect the game," Berhalter said. "He's got a great skill set. He's a game-changer. We want to put him in position to get the ball and hurt the opponent."
The Gold Cup final was Berhalter's first game as a coach against Mexico, but he played in four USA-Mexico games as a player, most famously stepping in the starting lineup for his World Cup debut in the 2-0 win over Mexico in the round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup in Jeonju, South Korea.
"We're both in a position where we're battling for supremacy in Concacaf," he said. "We're both trying to be the top team. I think right now, Mexico is slightly ahead of us, having beaten us in the last game and having performed well over the last few years.
"But when we play them you see the intensity takes a different level. Everything is up a level. The intensity of the game is up. The tackles are a little bit harder. And these are special games. It's always an occasion to be playing against Mexico."
On short notice, Berhalter now gets a chance to tweak things.
"That's the beauty of playing them in the next game," Berhalter said. "You get to make adjustments. You get to look at what you want to work on, how you want to work."
Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire