Any game between the USA and Mexico is a special one.
Long before Gregg Berhalter and Gerardo Martino took over as coaches of the USA and Mexico in 2019, the rivalry featured intense matches often marked by heated exchanges.
But rarely has a match between the two teams sparked the pre-game barbs like those that flew on Saturday ahead of Sunday final's Gold Cup final in Las Vegas.
Mind you, their remarks were mostly directed at the officiating and how they perceive it to have been lacking.
The Gold Cup final will be the third USA-Mexico final of the GGG-Tata era. Each team has won one game -- Mexico 1-0 in the 2019 Gold Cup in Chicago and the USA 3-2 in overtime in the 2021 Concacaf Nations League final in Denver.
Both games had their moments. In the Gold Cup final, Andres Guardado put his hands around Weston McKennie's neck during one incident. In the Nations League final, Hector Herrera grabbed McKennie by the neck during another confrontation.
"I don't know what it is," McKennie, who has the dead-pan delivery of a good comedian, said afterwards, "but they seem to like to grab my neck."
Berhalter's issue is with the officiating. And his focus was on what happened in Thursday's Gold Cup semifinal, where Mexico beat Canada, 2-1, on a late goal. The match was marred by mass confrontations involving players from the two teams. In one of them, Luis Rodriguez was seen grabbing Canadian Mark-Anthony Kaye's neck.
The U.S. coach took the unusual step of calling out the officiating before taking questions at his pre-game press conference.
"We're preparing the guys for a very difficult game, a very combative game," Berhalter said on Saturday. "I think it's worth mentioning that we want it to be a physical game, we want it to be a tough contested game, the same way as Mexico want the same thing. But we also want it to be fair, and that's the referee's role in this game: to manage the game in a fair way.
"I've seen numerous times when the players from Mexico are grabbing a player's necks and facial areas, and that has no place in the game. We can't have that and, again, we want our guys to battle, we want both teams to battle, we want it to be physical, but you know that has no place in the game. When I saw the semifinal, I didn't think the referee did a good job of managing that at all and they need to get ahead of that. There can't be any hands to the neck or to the face."
Berhalter and Martino go back to MLS, where they coached Eastern Conference rivals Columbus and Atlanta United in 2017 and 2018, and they have mutual respect for each other -- "If I have half the career he's had as a coach, I'd be happy," said Berhalter of Martino -- but Martino would not let slide Berhalter's remarks about how referees should discipline his players.
Martino pointed to Berhalter's gestures made at Honduran Selvin Brown, the fourth official in the USA-Qatar semifinal, after Gyasi Zardes scored late in the match as behavior that needed to be addressed.
"The referee will do the best he can," Martino said about Sunday's final. "In the USA-Qatar game, I think the referee also wasn't able to handle those moments, especially with the coach's reaction to the U.S. goal against the fourth official."
(Berhalter apologized for his actions right after the game, saying his beef should have been with the match official, Costa Rican Juan Gabriel Calderon.)
Martino's sensitivity about punishment for sideline displays might stem from the fact that he was red carded in overtime of the Nations League final for putting his arm around John Pitti while the Panamanian referee looked at his monitor at midfield before awarding a penalty kick that Christian Pulisic converted for the winning goal.
The pressure is entirely on Martino ahead the final, and it's because Mexico lost to the USA in the Nations League final. El Tri is the favorite on Sunday, just as it was in June. It is even more heavily favored because most of the USA's top players are preparing for their new club seasons in Europe. (Most, not all, of Mexico's stars will play on Sunday.)
"We'll play against the United States and against the players that their coach included for this Gold Cup," Martino said on Saturday. "The reasoning for those picked isn't relevant to us. We are facing the United States in another final and we seek to win."