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US, Mexico renew hostilities at Sunday’s Gold Cup final at Allegiant

Another chapter is set to be written in one of soccer’s great rivalries on Sunday when the United States men’s national team plays Mexico in the championship match of the Gold Cup in front of what’s expected to be a full house at Allegiant Stadium.

The last meeting will be a tough act to follow.

In a match that featured wild swings, dramatic penalties, the ejection of Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, players hit with bottles and debris from fans, several heated interactions between the players and five goals, the United States earned a 3-2 extra time win to claim the inaugural Nations League title in June.

It was a message to Mexico that the young talent of the U.S.’s golden generation is learning to compete and even win on the international stage as the gap that had developed between the nations on the pitch the last few years has narrowed.

Despite what’s expected to be a wild pro-Mexican crowd in Las Vegas, the game may not have quite the same feel as they meet in the Gold Cup final for the seventh time, with Mexico having won five of the previous six meetings.

The North American, South American and the Caribbean tournament is played every other year dating back in some form to 1963, with Mexico having won 11 titles, including 2019, and the U.S. six. The last U.S. title came in 2017.

The United States opted to give most of its top-line players a break from this event in advance of what figures to be a busy year for club and country and instead sent a roster that had to scrap and claw its way through the field.

Coach Gregg Berhalter isn’t ready to make excuses, though.

“We want to win this game. We’re here to win this game,” he said. “If we don’t win, I can guarantee we’re going to be bitterly disappointed.”

Goalkeeper Matt Turner, who has had to play hero more than Berhalter would like in this tournament, said the standard doesn’t change regardless of the roster.

“As U.S. soccer, the expectation is pretty clear,” he said. “When you play in CONCACAF tournaments, you get to the finals, you compete for trophies and you compete for championships. It doesn’t really matter who’s on the field.”

Emotions will almost assuredly run high when these teams take the field. Both coaches were already setting the tone on Saturday.

Berhalter is concerned with some of what he saw in Mexico’s semifinal win over Canada. Luis Rodriguez appeared to grab a Canadian player by the throat in a similar act to one perpetrated on U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie by Hector Herrera in the Nations League final.

“We want it to be a tough, physical game, just like Mexico does,” Berhalter said Saturday. “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 players’ necks and facial areas, and that has no place in the game. We can’t have that in the game.”

Martino wasn’t impressed and suggested Berhalter worry about himself after the U.S. coach apologized for his treatment of an official in its semifinal win over Qatar.

The last thing Martino is going to do is worry about any perception the U.S. is bringing an inferior roster to Las Vegas.

“We’ll play against the U.S. and against the players that their manager included for this Gold Cup,” he said. “The reasoning for those picked isn’t relevant to us. Simply put, we’re facing a team that bears the jersey of the United States. We have to face them as we usually do.”

Martino’s side figures to have the roster edge and the crowd edge, even on U.S. soil. But those fans have nearly proven costly for Mexico in recent matches.

Several times, including the Nations League final and the Gold Cup semifinal, referees have stopped play and warned Mexico’s supporters of possible further sanctions for engaging in a homophobic slur.

The third warning in a match could result in the suspension of play.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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