Harrison, New Jersey — Friendly is just another word to Gregg Berhalter.
The U.S. Men’s National Team head coach held his press conference to preview tomorrow night’s match between the USA and Mexico. It’s a fierce rivalry and one that’s heading into its 70th match. Berhalter has already had the pleasure of coaching against Mexico. The two sides met up just recently in July.
However, the United States fell short of the Gold Cup title, as Mexico lifted the trophy. It was a bitter taste left in the mouths of the Americans — and their fans. This is a rivalry that the new head coach has been part of before, as a player.
Berhalter said that the two sides are battling for supremacy in CONCACAF.
“I think right now, Mexico is slightly ahead of us, having beaten us in the last game and having performed well over the last few years,” Berhalter said. “When we play them, you see the intensity takes a different level. Everything is up a level. The tempo is up, the tackles are harder. These are special games.”
“It’s always an occasion to be playing against Mexico.”
Friendly? Yes. Intense? Absolutely.
Despite it being a friendly, Berhalter knows the intensity will be high.
At the end of the day, the coach is just happy that his players will face off against quality competition. Mexico has some new up-and-coming stars that have been doing wonders in Europe. Hirving “Chucky” Lozano has been a machine for Mexico, and the 24-year-old scored in his first appearance with Napoli. Defenses always have to keep a close eye on Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, who has 51 international goals.
Berhalter saw most of the players on Mexico’s current roster at the Gold Cup. The team is now being managed by former Atlanta Untied boss Tata Martino.
“You get to make adjustments, how you want to work,” Berhalter said. “For us it’s good. What we’re trying to do is gather information on Mexico. Gather information on how to hurt them, off-balance them. When you get to play them back-to-back, we’re going to alter a couple things and see how it works out.”
Berhalter said that, when the USMNT plays Mexico, it’s important to understand two things. First, he said no matter if it’s a friendly or qualifier, playing against Mexico is a rivalry nonetheless. He said that players “relish” the opportunity to go against El Tri.
Then, he complemented the talent of the Mexican team.
“They have a good team, and they’ve had a good team for many years,” Berhalter said. “That means we can test ourselves and play against better competition… We think it’s a great game to play in and will make us better.”
Holdin' ?and workin' together with that natty ?. pic.twitter.com/wkrS58uOQ8
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) September 5, 2019
Relying on the group of USMNT Youngsters
The new Berhalter era for the national team has proven to work in a number of ways. There are some new faces joining the fold. Some veterans have been called back, too. Berhalter released his roster for the match, and Tuesday’s match against Uruguay, last week. There are 15 players on the roster that competed in the Gold Cup.
However, a surprise inclusion saw Alfredo Morales coming back into the fold for the first time since 2017. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, midfielder Paxton Pomykal and defender Miles Robinson are looking to earn their first USMNT cap.
Also, Berhalter decided to call-up some previously unknown players. Sergiño Dest is currently with Ajax in the Netherlands, and is one of multiple players in the UEFA Champions League this season. He recently started in Ajax’s Champions League qualifying match against Apoel Nicosia. Berhalter did announce during the press conference that Dest will start tomorrow.
However, the roster doesn’t have much experience against Mexico. According to U.S. Soccer game notes, striker Jordan Morris is the only player on the roster to score against Mexico.
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen might be the cemented number one, but he doesn’t have much experience against Mexico. However, Berhalter is happy with the goalkeeper’s growth, especially since moving to Fortuna Düsseldorf.
“He came into Columbus and he was very raw,” Berhalter said. “But, he was also patient and focused on developing and improving. We saw his improvement over the course of the years and he was ready for the next step. Now you see he’s at the next step and performing well. The hope is that he continues to develop, improve and make steps in his career. He’s had a good start on the Bundesliga season.”
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) September 5, 2019
Sargent’s back for the USMNT, too
Meanwhile, also returning to the fold is Josh Sargent. The 19-year-old plays for Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, and recently scored a screamer against Augsburg. He’s broken into the first-team.
Berhalter left Sargent off the Gold Cup roster, giving him time to have a full preseason with Bremen.
“At the time, seeing Josh and having him in camp, we thought the best decision was to leave him off the roster,” Berhalter said. “The rest is how the player responds. It’s not us making these decisions that can change the course of history. It’s completely up to the player and how he responds. Josh responded in the way that we wanted.”
“He went out there and earned himself playing time.”
JOSH. SARGENT! ??
The run, the brilliant first touch, the chip of the keeper. What a goal from the American! ?? pic.twitter.com/x5X9FMhXL4
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) September 1, 2019
When’s the Match?
Tomorrow night is when it all goes down.
As Berhalter said, even though this match is a friendly, it’ll be a must-watch. Rivalries like the United States and Mexico are hard to come by. Who can forget Michael Bradley and Chicharito crashing heads. Even just last year, Matt Miazga taunted Diego Lainez. Neither player is on the roster for this friendly, as Miazga is hurt.
Tomorrow’s match will air on Fox Sports 1, beginning at 8:30 p.m. EST. Tickets are still available with a recent attendance number looking to be around 39,000 fans at MetLife Stadium.