USMNT falls to Mexico in heated, entertaining Gold Cup final

Jonathan dos Santos (center) celebrates after scoring the goal that won Mexico the Gold Cup on Sunday in Chicago. (Reuters)
Jonathan dos Santos (center) celebrates after scoring the goal that won Mexico the Gold Cup on Sunday in Chicago. (Reuters)

CHICAGO — There were hands on necks. Fingers pointed at faces. Up above, a constant buzz and occasional roar among 62,493. At the 31st of 31 attempts, the 2019 Gold Cup delivered a spectacle. And the U.S. men’s national team couldn’t quite handle it.

The Americans battled and threatened. Had their chances. But ultimately fell to an ascendent and deserving Mexico, 1-0, on a second-half beauty finished off by Jonathan dos Santos.

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All around Soldier Field, beer showers rained. Cups flew. It was a remarkable sight some 1,400 miles from Mexico. Green, white and red flags erupted along with those that bore them.

El Tri fans had waited. They’d been frightened by a team that looked mistake-prone early on. Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore and Paul Arriola, on various occasions, oh so nearly took advantage.

But those fans were encouraged and egged on by intensity and free-flowing soccer. Sucked in by the pageantry and sincerity of a rivalry that brought CONCACAF’s biennial tournament to life. They just needed their moment.

And Mexico delivered. Rodolfo Pizarro, nearly knocked out of the game by a gruesome elbow injury, delivered. Raul Jimenez, having misfired earlier in the match, delivered. And most of all, Dos Santos did.

[More: How USMNT unraveled in second half]

The U.S., meanwhile, didn’t necessarily wilt amid the cauldron of Mexican noise. (The crowd was roughly 85 percent Mexico fans.) It had efforts saved and wasted. Two goalbound shots blocked by unknowing body parts, a third cleared off the goal line.

But the game’s tide gradually turned in the second half. “Over the course of 90 minutes, Mexico was the better team,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter admitted afterward. He spoke of “calmness” and “composure” that went missing as the Mexicans took over the game.

Their process is at a more advanced stage under Tata Martino than the Americans’ under Berhalter, their talent advantage still meaningful. And they now have proof. They had a mini postgame dance party, water flying just as beer did in the stands, with U.S. players watching. They lugged buckets of ice and Modelo through the mixed zone as their vanquished American foes gave interviews with either expressionless or glum faces.

They have bragging rights. And, most importantly of all, a trophy.

The U.S. will rue missed chances

In the first half, the field was rarely tilted, the superior team rarely clear. The U.S. pressed and tried to possess over the opening 10 or so minutes, and had plenty of success with the latter.

It also created chances – two glorious ones in particular. Jozy Altidore’s value was on full display. He held up the ball and flicked to Christian Pulisic, who sped past Carlos Salcedo and was in on goal. But Guillermo Ochoa flew out to make a massive early save.

Altidore then got in on goal himself, turning Moreno inside-out with an excellent first touch. But as he bore down on Ochoa, his imperfections showed. His link-up play is a necessity in big games. His finishing, however, can be shoddy – and was here.

The U.S. would eventually rue those misses. And they weren’t the only close calls. Arriola capitalized on Mexican miscommunication, darting in between Ochoa and Hector Moreno and beating them to a long ball. His touch took him wide. His finish beat a frantically covering defender. But it also beat the far post.

In the second half, Jordan Morris had a header cleared off the line.

The hosts – though not exactly the crowd favorites – were constantly menacing from corners. Late on, Christian Roldan tested Ochoa again after a penalty-area scum.

In the end, however, at the final whistle, beer flew once again. Mexico beat the U.S. in a final once again. The American wait for a head-to-head regional title against their arch-rivals’ A-team goes on.

Lineups

The USMNT was unchanged from a semifinal win over Jamaica. From back to front, right to left (4-3-3):

Zack Steffen; Reggie Cannon, Matt Miazga, Aaron Long, Tim Ream; Michael Bradley, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic; Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, Paul Arriola.

Mexico made one change from its semifinal, with Uriel Antuna coming into the lineup after dropping to the bench for the semifinal:

Memo Ochoa; Luis “Chaka” Rodriguez, Carlos Salcedo, Hector Moreno, Jesus Gallardo; Edson Alvarez, Jonathan dos Santos, Andres Guardado; Uriel Antuna, Raul Jimenez, Rodolfo Pizarro.

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Henry Bushnell is a features writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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