When it comes to CONCACAF events, the preference is typically for a USA game against Mexico in the final. CONCACAF got their wish twice back in 2021. The two power nations of the continent met in the Nations League and Gold Cup title matches. The US won both in extra time.

This time around, CONCACAF did not get its wish. Because of the way the draw shook out, it’s USA vs. Mexico in one semi-final with Canada vs. Panama in the other. That doesn’t mean this game is your typical money-first contest, however. There is still a spot in the Nations League Final on the line for both teams.

USA preparations against Mexico in Nations League

The USMNT is having to prepare for two competitions this summer while under the leadership of yet another interim manager. Former interim boss Anthony Hudson picked up and left to go manage a club in Qatar. The new interim boss is BJ Callaghan, who has been an assistant for the Philadelphia Union since 2014 but has never been a full-time manager. He has been tasked with guiding the US through both the Nations League and the Gold Cup until a new full-time boss is appointed.

The roster called up by Callaghan is about as close to a full A-team as the US can get. All of the biggest names and regulars are there. Matt Turner is in goal. Sergiño Dest, Antonee Robinson and Miles Robinson are on the back line. The midfield features Gio Reyna, Yunus Musah, and Weston McKennie. Up top, the US can call upon the services of Christian Pulisic and new US commit Folarin Balogun.

It’s a strong group that clearly states US Soccer’s intention of going all-out to win this trophy. The run of form for the US since the World Cup in Qatar hasn’t been bad. Yet, it does not generate momentum for this event or build toward the World Cup in 2026. Two wins, one loss, and two draws do not set the world alight. Lifting a pair of trophies this summer could change all that. It starts against Mexico with a spot in the Nations League Final on the line.

El Tri in similar spot as US

Mexico’s run of results since a disappointing group-stage finish at the World Cup has been similar to the ones the US has posted. They posted a win and a draw in the Nations League group finale in March and then a 1-1 draw with the US in April. Unlike the US, however, Mexico played a pair of friendlies to prepare for the two competitions this summer. Those too were a mixed bag. They beat Guatemala 2-0 in Mazatlan on June 7 before a 2-2 draw against Cameroon in San Diego on June 10.

Mexico also has the luxury of already having its full-time manager, Diego Cocca, in place. Cocca has called in a roster with plenty of experience in their bid to lift this trophy. The squad is so experienced that only four of the field players have fewer than ten caps: Julian Araujo with six, Israel Reyes with seven, Victor Guzman with two, and Ozziel Herrera with three.

What the roster does seem to lack is goal-scoring. In fact, of the 23 players on the roster, only Uriel Antuna has scored at least 10 goals for the national team. Also odd is the fact that Mexico only brought two forwards to this tournament: Santiago Gimenez of Feyenoord in the Netherlands and then Henry Martin of Club America.

Other notes

Thursday’s game kicks off at 10 p.m. ET on Paramount+ and Univision. This game is at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. It was also the host of the 2021 Gold Cup Final against Mexico. That was the USMNT’s only other appearance at this high-tech stadium.

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The last time these two played was the ‘Continental Clasico‘ in April, which ended in a 1-1 draw in Arizona. The winner of this USA game against Mexico game advances to play either Canada or Panama on Sunday, June 18, in the CONCACAF Nations League Final. That game is also at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Agencia MexSport