Berhalter: USMNT can ‘create a legacy’ in CNL final vs. Mexico

ARLINGTON, Texas — U.S. men’s national team manager Gregg Berhalter said his side has the chance to “create a legacy” when it takes on rival Mexico in Sunday’s Concacaf Nations League final.

The U.S. has won the first two editions of the Nations League, and will be aiming for a three-peat on Sunday against their longtime rivals.

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But the USMNT was pushed to the limit in its semifinal against Jamaica, needing a stoppage-time own goal just to send the match into extra time, where it ultimately prevailed, 3-1. Mexico, meanwhile, cruised to a 3-0 win over Panama.

While Berhalter said he doesn’t see Sunday’s matchup as a pressure-filled occasion for his side, the reality is that expectations are high for both teams in this rivalry.

“I think Mexico played a great semifinal … and so the pressure may be on them to repeat that type of performance,” Berhalter said. “But for us, it’s just about we see this as an opportunity for this group. We see this as an opportunity to create a legacy for this group of what we can achieve. And we love the Nation’s League; love what it represents.”

The crowd is expected to be heavily in favor of Mexico at AT&T Stadium. That is often the case when these two teams get together, including the past two Nations League encounters in 2021 and 2023, both U.S. victories.

Given that recent history, Berhalter didn’t seem all that worried about the prospect of playing in front of a hostile crowd.

“I think it speaks to the diversity that we have in the United States, and especially the culture around soccer where there’s a number of fans from all different countries,” he said.

“And they come to celebrate the game of soccer and for us we know it’s going to be a great atmosphere. We know it’s going to be a loud atmosphere, and we’re excited about playing a final.”

The U.S., by its own admission, played poorly against Jamaica, conceding in the first minute, and struggling to break down a Reggae Boyz side missing the likes of Leon Bailey and Michail Antonio. Berhalter is hoping the lesson from the team’s slow start sinks in for his side.

“I think we paid the price for a moment of not being tuned into the game in the first 30 seconds, and that made it extremely difficult for us,” he said.

“We obviously wouldn’t have scripted it like that, but I also think it’s good for this group, good for the growth of this group to have to endure situations like that and I think gain the confidence that we can endure situations like that. And now again, we put that game behind us, we learn from it and now it’s about a final.”

The victory in the 2021 Nations League final against Mexico, when the U.S. came from behind to claim a 3-2 victory in extra time, is pointed to as a big moment for this generation of U.S. players. It was the first time since 2013 that the USMNT prevailed over El Tri in official competition.

Midfielder Tyler Adams said he senses that the U.S. had grown considerably since then.

“I think that we’ve become more patient, we understand our roles a lot better,” he said. “I think around that time [in 2021] we were still developing our identity and style of play, whereas now we’re more flexible. We’re able to adapt on the fly a lot more.

“But again, that patience thing is a huge thing. I think in the past, if we were to play Jamaica and they were sitting really deep, we’d be trying to force things nonstop, whereas we had the belief in our side that a goal would come and then we’d be able to dominate from there.”