The Gap Between US & Mexico Is Widening On The International Stage

Uriel Antuna

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Rewind the tape to last September, when the USA and Mexico faced off in a friendly in Nashville. Tyler Adams helped the USMNT grab a 1-0 victory under the guidance of interim manager Dave Sarachan. What might be most memorable from that game, though, was the towering center back Matt Miazga reminding Mexican youngster Diego Lainez just how much shorter the then 18-year-old was than Miazga.

Though the U.S. had missed out on that summer's World Cup, it seemed that maybe there was some feeling among the group that they were getting back on track. There was still some uncertainty with Sarachan still leading the team, but the result and Miazga's actions showed that, just maybe, that the USMNT were ready to battle Mexico for Concacaf supremacy once again.

But after last week's friendly, a decisive 3-0 result for El Tri, it's clear that the gap between the men's senior sides is just as wide as it was the night that the USA suffered the embarrassing 2-1 loss in Trinidad and Tobago in October 2017.

It was the second time this summer that Mexico had defeated the U.S. after July's 1-0 Gold Cup final favored El Tri. It's fair to say that neither side was at full strength for that game, which pitted two former MLS managers against each other in Gerardo Martino and Gregg Berhalter. 

Both sides were without crucial players for that game, as several European stars missed out on the tournament for various reasons. Even without several surefire starters, though, Martino's Mexican side were just winners against a USA team that was closer to full strength.

That result alone might not have been enough to show that Mexico were still the undisputed kings of Concacaf. Had Jozy Altidore converted his golden opportunity early in that game, the result might have been a completely different one. And the friendly result, as a standalone data point, might also be enough.

Taken together, though, and you get a sense that the distance between the USMNT and Mexico might be as great as it has been in the last 20 years. Under Martino, Mexico seem to have a plan that works for them, an identity that might help them succeed in getting over the Round of 16 hump at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (don't mind that loss to Argentina this week, though). 

Meanwhile, while Berhalter has seemed to help shape an identity for a team that was floundering under the temporary guidance of Sarachan in 2018, it doesn't seem like the former Columbus Crew manager has found the right mixture of players yet to fill the spots on his team. 

Experimentation is part of the process, but it seems clear that from a talent standpoint, the U.S. is far behind their rivals at the moment. While Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, and Adams can give fans of the U.S. hope for the future, the supporting cast around those players isn't close to the same level. On the other hand, Mexico doesn't have the same issue. Even when certain players, who would be integral parts of the team, don't want to play for Mexico under Martino, El Tri have more than enough firepower waiting to make up for absences. 

The upcoming participation in the Concacaf Nations League should provide a good glimpse in just how Berhalter's project is coming along. With Canada defeating Cuba twice in group play during this past international window, there's not much margin of error for the USA if they plan on making it to the semifinal stage of the tournament. 

Canada can't claim to be on the same level as the U.S. right now, much less Mexico. However, if the U.S. can't put away the Canucks in a competent fashion, then it might be time for the Red, White, and Blue to dig deep and find out why they are falling further and further behind their longtime rivals. 

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