Saturday, April 20, 2024

US and Mexico men’s soccer teams prepare for Nations League final

Get ready for March Madness, soccer style, as the Mexican men’s national team goes up against the United States in the final of the Concacaf Nations League on Sunday.

Mexico advanced with a 3-0 statement victory over Panama on Thursday night, just hours after the USA somehow turned a 1-0 deficit in the final seconds into a 3-1 overtime win over Jamaica in the first semifinal.

Sunday’s 7:15 p.m. championship match will take place at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas, where supporters of El Tri — the team’s nickname because of the three colors of the Mexican flag utilized in its uniforms — are expected to be louder, more passionate and in greater numbers than the USA fans.

“Don’t expect the Stars and Stripes to feel at home,” wrote the Dallas Morning News.

El Tri averaged 52,337 fans per game in 15 games in the United States last year, whereas the U.S. men’s national team averaged 29,578 in 11 games on home turf.

The Mexico-Panama game in Dallas drew 40,926 fans, and a packed house of 80,000 on Sunday is possible.

Mexico's Edson Álvarez faces off against Christian Pulisic of the U.S.
Mexico’s Edson Álvarez faces off against Christian Pulisic of the U.S. in a 2023 game. (Concacaf)

What is the Nations League?

The Concacaf Nations League involves the 20 best national teams out of the 41 member nations in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Group-stage games began way back in September, although four top-rated teams (including the U.S. and Mexico) went straight to the quarterfinals.

Mexico was almost eliminated right there, losing 2-0 to Honduras in the first leg, then leading only 1-0 in the second leg at the end of 90 minutes. But a miracle goal by Edson Álvarez 11 minutes into injury time created a 2-2 aggregate score, and in penalty kicks, Mexico won 4-2 to advance.

Quiñónez and Álvarez huddle with other team members at Thursday's game against Panama.
Quiñones and Álvarez huddle with other team members at Thursday’s game against Panama. (Federación Mexicana de Fútbol)

The U.S. is two-time defending champion, and this year’s final is a rematch of 2021, when Mexico lost 3-2 in overtime.

The best six teams in this year’s tourney earn bids into this summer’s Copa América, an intense mini–World Cup for the Americas that could be a swan song for Argentine legend Lionel Messi.

Mexico vs. USA — and itself

After taking a 1-0 lead on naturalized citizen Julián Quiñones’ first goal for Mexico, El Tri cruised past Panama thanks to 38-year-old veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and goals by Álvarez and Orbelín Pineda.

Now Mexico sets its sights on the U.S., and the pressure is on.

Mexico has no wins, four losses and two ties in its last six against the U.S., including a 3-0 thrashing in the 2023 Nations League semifinals.

A fan celebrates at Thursday's game against Panama.
A fan celebrates at Thursday’s game against Panama. (Federación Mexicana de Fútbol)

Mexico leads all-time with 36 wins, 17 draws and 23 losses, but the U.S. has an 18-8-9 edge since 2000.

Most betting outlets have installed the Americans, who come in 13th in the current FIFA world rankings, as Sunday’s favorite against Mexico, which is ranked No. 15.

Overall, what’s most important to Mexico is getting back on track after its 2022 Qatar debacle, when it failed to advance past the group stage for the first time in its last eight World Cup appearances.

Gerardo “Tata” Martino left as head coach after four tumultuous years, and then his replacement, Diego Cocca, was dismissed after only four months. Jaime Lozano took over last year — with perhaps brighter and more stable times ahead for El Tri.

Didn’t Mexico just shock the USA in soccer?

Less than a month ago, Mexico pulled off a 2-0 upset win over the United States in a Concacaf tournament — only it was the women’s team playing in the W Gold Cup.

But it was indeed a stunner: Mexico was No. 35 in the world rankings, the U.S. was No. 2, and Mexico had lost 41 of its previous 42 matches to Team USA.

Mexico went on to beat Uruguay 3-2 in the quarterfinals, but lost 3-0 to Brazil in the semifinals.

With reports from El Economista, La Jornada and Dallas Morning News

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