The latest chapter in the Mexico-USA rivalry was written as El Tri won 1-0 at Soldier Field to seal 2019 Gold Cup glory.
In an enthralling, gung-ho affair, both sides had great chances to win the game but in the end, Jonathan dos Santos’ fine left-footed strike in the 73rd minute was enough to separate the two teams.
But who were the big winners and losers as Mexico sealed an 11th Concacaf title?
Winner – Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino
Things have been going quite well for former Barcelona boss Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino since he rocked up in North America in 2016.
The 56-year-old Argentine guided Atlanta United to a historic MLS Cup triumph last year in just their second year of existence, with Newcastle United record signing Miguel Almiron starring alongside Josef Martinez. Now, he’s guided Mexico to a Gold Cup title, beating their arch-rivals in the final.
Despite a rocky start to the showdown in Chicago, Mexico grew into the game well as time went by and during the second half, looked in complete control.
The hallmark of Martino’s Atlanta side was their ruthless transitions and lightning counter-attacks. There is an essence of that with his Mexico side, who really can cut through you in attack when they get going and scored a tournament-high 16 goals at this Gold Cup.
Loser – Gregg Berhalter
After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, this Gold Cup was a real chance for Berhalter to undo the wrongs of his predecessors and lay down a marker for the USA moving forward.
While reaching the final is respectable, they did so by picking off minnows such as Curacao and, in the groups, Guyana. Once the real test came in the final, the USA simply weren’t up to the task.
Berhalter: Here are my subs.
— Tutul Rahman (@tutulismyname) July 8, 2019
Berhalter’s side started well were full of effort and intensity throughout, but Mexico soon got to grips, flooding the midfield and stopping the likes of Michael Bradley and Weston McKennie from getting any real passing rhythms going.
During the second half, it felt as if an unstoppable Mexican tide was attacking Zack Steffen’s goal and nothing Berhalter commanded from the bench or introduced to the field could change it.
Defeats against your biggest rivals always hurt. This one may sting for some time as Berhalter picks through the bones and prepares for World Cup qualification.
Winner – Jonathan dos Santos
LA Galaxy midfielder Jonathan dos Santos is not going to be a popular guy when playing away from home in MLS for the rest of this season, but he won’t care one bit now.
From the moment Mexico took hold of the 2019 Gold Cup final, Dos Santos was an absolute wizard in midfield, creating a match-high five chances and managing an 83% pass completion rate – the highest of any player on the pitch.
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) July 8, 2019
It looked for all the world like Dos Santos would create the winning goal but, quite deservedly, it was the 29-year-old who stepped up to give Mexico the win.
Martino’s side worked the ball to the edge of the box and an absolutely sublime backheel from Jimenez rolled right into the path of the onrushing Dos Santos. The former Barcelona man picked his spot and fired a beautiful left-footed strike in off the crossbar, sparking wild celebrations among the masses of Mexican supporters in the stands at Soldier Field.
It’s goals like these, in games against your biggest rivals that seal legendary status for international footballers.
Loser – Jozy Altidore
After Gyasi Zardes had done a respectable job keeping his spot warm, Jozy Altidore came into the starting line-up like a man on a mission during the USA’s 1-0 win over Panama in the final group game. He then sat out the 1-0 quarter-final win against Curacao before playing a key role as USMNT breezed past Jamaica 3-1 in the semi-finals.
Altidore looked to be returning to that peak, bullish fitness that has left MLS defenders trembling in fear for years, just in time to face the old enemy in the final.
But for some reason, things just didn’t get going for the Toronto FC forward. Sure, Altidore put himself about, while his control to take down a Tim Ream clearance early on was sublime, but he then shanked the left-footed shot wide and from there, things only went downhill.
As the game wore on, Mexico’s grip over proceedings only got tighter. And as El Tri controlled possession, the USA’s work-rate had to increase. Altidore, with a distinct lack of match fitness, simply couldn’t cope with this and was withdrawn on 64 minutes as Greg Berhalter reverted back to Zardes leading the line.
Winner – Concacaf
When the Gold Cup schedule was drawn up and the final was placed on the same day as the Women’s World Cup final and the Copa America final, Concacaf will have been quietly hoping for a Mexico v USA finale. That’s what they got and, boy, they were not disappointed.
The 2019 Gold Cup has had unsavoury, underlying question marks about its validity from sections of American and Mexican support but tonight’s final showed just why it is such an important tournament in this part of the world.
USA and Mexico are ready to kick off the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup 2019 final on Soldier Field, Illinois. pic.twitter.com/15c9VxORDg
— Noncho (@Noncho01) July 8, 2019
These two fierce rivals went at each other hammer and tongs right from the off and by half-time, we could have easily seen three or four goals. In the end, it only finished 1-0 but there was no shortage of action with the two teams firing 25 shots between them.
And it would be unfair to end this Concacaf love-in without mentioning the atmosphere generated by the 62, 493-strong crowd. It was raucous, passionate and deafeningly loud as both sets of fans showed their players just how much this meant to them.
Mexico v USA may be the cliche Gold Cup final but it’s also one hell of an advert for the competition.
Loser – Christian Pulisic
Had USA won this final and Christian Pulisic had a telling say, the young winger would have become a legend for the USMNT and could have walked through the doors at Stamford Bridge full of the confidence an international tournament win fills you with.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 8, 2019
However, the weight of expectation seemed to land hard on Pulisic throughout the final against Mexico. He huffed and he puffed, but he just didn’t get into the game and couldn’t exert the influence the USA simply needed him to if they were to stand a chance of winning.
Pulisic completed a match-high five dribbles but all too often, the USA’s star man was too far away from the Mexican penalty area to cause a serious threat, being reduced to half-chances and speculative lobs.
At 20, Pulisic will have plenty more chances to seal Gold Cup glory, but he’ll want to put this behind him quickly as he heads off for his new life in the Premier League.