PASADENA, Calif. - There is a relaxed attitude surrounding the Mexican national team as it approaches Saturday’s Gold Cup final against the United States at the Rose Bowl.
It appears coach Jose Manuel de la Torre has prepared his team mentally for what is expected to be an intense matchup for not only the regional title but also bragging rights. Although the U.S. hasn’t looked anywhere near as sharp as its neighbors to the south so far, the confident Mexican squad enters the game with respect for its rival.
“We are calm,” de la Torre said after Friday’s practice through a translator. “Both teams are very strong. Regardless, we have to be prepared. We respect our opponent very much and regardless of what’s on paper or what has happened in the past what matters is what’s done inside the field.”
Since the inception of the Gold Cup in 1991, the U.S. and Mexico have met four times in the final. Mexico has come out on top three times, including a 5-0 beat down of the Americans two years ago. El Tri has a total of eight CONCACAF titles, while the U.S. has four, all coming after the tournament rebranded as the Gold Cup.
“The rivalry goes back many years and the rivalry has become stronger,” de la Torre said. “It’s important for Mexican fans living in the United States. It’s a Clasico and I think that will make the atmosphere greater. But at the end, it’s still a soccer game. It will be well coached and keep in mind it took a lot of work to get here.”
Mexico coasted through the group stage of this month’s tournament but struggled in the knockout stage against Guatemala and Honduras. It took extra time to knock off Honduras in the semifinals to earn a meeting with the Americans, but the Mexican players aren’t concerned about how they got to the final as long as they’re there.
“We're happy because we've won all the games thus far,” attacking midfielder Gio Dos Santos said. “I think the team is peaking. Our rivals as we've moved along have gotten tougher, more complicated but we've known when to respond, and thankfully our efforts have been rewarded."
Mexico knows what it will have to do to top the United States, which lost to Panama in the group stage before recording three straight clean sheets to reach the final.
"Playing the same way we've been throughout the Cup. That's the long and short of it,” Dos Santos said of how his side can emerge holding the trophy aloft. “This is a final and we also have to enjoy that atmosphere and give it our all."
De la Torre understands that teams make mistakes on the field, but he believes the mental toughness of his players will give his squad the edge against the U.S.
“It’s very important for our team to work together and be convinced to play together and be happy," he said. "We believe that when you achieve that, you get better results. Since the beginning I’ve been saying that mistakes are possible in many different areas of the game, but you can never mistake the human relation and the teamwork and team effort."
You can be sure Mexico will be ready and relaxed come kickoff.
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Alex Labidou contributed reporting to this article