(Reuters) – One of international football’s newest but fiercest rivalries will resume on Sunday when the United States take on Mexico in the Gold Cup final and the U.S. coach is betting on a growing young strike partnership to bring him his first title.
Gregg Berhalter has been in charge of the United States less than a year but after some poor results before the tournament he has assuredly guided his team to the final with a record of 15 goals for and one against.
Crucial to his attack are Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie. The two 20-year olds have combined well going forward, each getting goals in the quarter-final and semi-final wins over Curacao and Jamaica.
Both matured in German football, Pulisic spending four years at Borussia Dortmund before heading for Chelsea this summer and McKennie plying his trade at Schalke.
Berhalter lauded both men as “real difference makers”.
“They are fearless, they have a good mentality, they give you solutions,” the coach said. “Christian can give you solutions. He is in moments that you think it is very difficult to navigate out of and he finds a way and that is a great quality of his.
“Weston is an outstanding player, he is a real talent. What he brings us, what he is teaching us is just raw ability. He is another guy that can solve things by dribbling alone with his physicality and his ball control.”
No matter how good their forwards may be the defending champions will have their work cut out against a confident Mexico side with stalwart Guillermo Ochoa in goal and new coach Gerardo Martino on the sidelines.
Former Argentina boss Martino has so far enchanted the hard-to-please Mexican fans, with an unbeaten nine-game run since taking over in January.
Mexico scored 13 goals against Canada, Martinique and Cuba in the group stage but managed just one each against Costa Rica and Haiti in the knock-out stages and even then only after extra time.
The effects of that extra time could prove a physical disadvantage in what is sure to be a hard-fought match between two teams who have won 13 of the last 14 Gold Cups between them.
Both sides have reasons for optimism.
The last time the two met in the Gold Cup final was in 2011 when Mexico won 4-2.
Although the United States have beaten Mexico just once in the final, back in 2007, they did it at the same ground where Sunday’s final will take place, at Soldier Field in Chicago.
(This story corrects spelling of McKennie.)
(Reporting by Andrew Downie; editing by Clare Fallon)