Gregg Berhalter: “I’ve seen numerous times when the players from Mexico are grabbing players necks and the facial areas.” (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
It was a little more than a day before the U.S. men’s national team takes on Mexico in the Concacaf Gold Cup final, but head coach Gregg Berhalter already was working the refs.
Now, there is a pretty small chance that the referee and his two assistants will read this or any other story about the game, but Berhalter tried to make a point that one of the best national team rivalries in the world needed to be cleaned up.
On June 6, the teams played in a rough and tumble Concacaf Nations League final, which the USA won in extratime, 2-1.
“We want it to be a physical game, we want it to be a tough contested game,” Berhalter said in a Saturday afternoon Zoom press conference. “Mexico, they want the same thing. But we also want to be fair, and that’s the referee’s role in this game is to manage the game in a fair way. I’ve seen numerous times when the players from Mexico are grabbing players necks and the facial areas.
“That has no place in the game. Again, we want our guys to battle. We want both teams to battle. We want it to be physical. That has no place in the game. When I saw the semifinal, I didn’t think the referee did a good job of managing that at all. They need to get ahead of that. There can’t be any hands the neck or to the face.”
Berhalter was referring to the Mexicans’ 2-1 win over Canada in Thursday night’s semifinal.
When the USMNT defeated Mexico in the CNL final, it had its European contingent. This 23-man roster is dominated by Major League Soccer players.
The USA coach that game is in the past.
“We don’t even remember that anymore,” he said. “It’s only about the game tomorrow. It’s going be a new game, new context, some new players. Our focus is on winning the game.”
Call the Americans a B or C national team, yet the USA has managed to find its way to the Gold Cup final for a record 12th time.
The USMNT has won five consecutive games, including four 1-0 results, which is a Gold Cup record for one competition. Yet, the team keeps on putting W’s up on the board.
“The only thing that has exceeded our expectations, it has been the mentality of the group,” Berhalter said. “You never know exactly how the group is going to come together when you name the roster. I’ve been absolutely amazed at the cohesiveness of this group and how players are responding to challenges and how and how the team is so focused on and our goals.”
Berhalter used the 1-0 win over Canada, the final Group B match that secured first place.
“We were so determined that we wanted to win the group and we wanted to achieve that … that the guys grinded and gave every single thing they had in that game,” he said. “We had some guys who were sick in the game and weren’t up to physical standards but just grinded throughout the whole game.”