By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Jun 16, 2023) US Soccer Players – Folarin Balogun’s USMNT debut also gave him his first experience of the program’s rivalry with Mexico. “The boys told me it was going to be intense, but I’m definitely still shocked by the events. There was so much going on,” Balogun told CBS Sports postgame after the USMNT’s 3-0 win. “But I’m just delighted that we were able to win, and I’m delighted that I was able to make my debut.”
For the USMNT, this was one of the most dominant defeats of Mexico in recent memory. The Yanks flashed high tempo and precision both in and out of possession. Mexico coach Diego Cocca later acknowledged that it was a reality check for his program in the sixth match of his tenure.
“We’re very satisfied with the performance that we put on tonight,” said interim US coach BJ Callaghan. “We started this 10 days ago in camp and the group has been focused and determined to win a second Nations League trophy. And we knew that it was going to take a great performance vs. Mexico to get us one step closer to that goal. So for me, I couldn’t be more proud and more happy for the players in the locker room and for the staff that have put so much into this.”
In the past, soundly beating Mexico usually tended to be one of the more memorable achievements of any given year for the USMNT. This time it felt something like business as usual, a necessary step on the path to a successful defense of the Nations League title.
“We don’t look at ourselves as the kings of Concacaf,” said Callaghan. “We’re constantly trying to improve and grow as a team, to compete against the highest levels of international football. And for us, this is just a continuation of putting good performances together, learning from those performances and continuing to try and grow and grow and grow as we continue now to look towards the 2026 World Cup.”
One more hurdle remains in this camp. Canada awaits on Sunday after confidently defeating Panama 2-0 in the other semifinal via goals from stars Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies. They’re now one game away from winning their first major trophy in 23 years. They have not hidden their desire to mark that achievement at the expense of their southern neighbors.
“Our boys came through tonight with some real spirit, and they showed their quality. Clean sheet, two goals, it’s a good performance,” Canada coach John Herdman said. “We’ll have a few beat-up bodies there. That was a physical contest, but we needed that. I said they’ll get forged in some fire today to get them ready for a final, and that was exactly the type of game we needed.”
The USMNT will be short a few players due to the red cards picked up by Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest. Canada, conversely, got past Panama while limiting Davies’ minutes to a second-half cameo as he works back from an injury sustained with Bayern Munich several weeks ago. Whether he continues as a super-sub or is ready to start, he’ll be a focus of attention for the USMNT technical staff.
Canada stormed back into the regional conversation with a first-place finish in the Octagonal phase of 2022 World Cup qualifying, taking four points of six from their two matches vs. the United States. The more recent of those fixtures was a 2-0 win in frigid Hamilton, Ontario in January 2022 that showcased Canada’s sturdy defense and swift counterattacks. While summertime Vegas could not be a more different setting, that result offers lessons for the USMNT’s preparations for Sunday.
“We scored first, that’s critical in football. And then we protected,” said Herdman after the win over Panama. “We protected what we had.”
A three-day turnaround will test the legs and lungs of players on both sides. The prospect of North America’s top two teams locking horns with a trophy on the line offers ample mental motivation.
“We need to turn the page,” said Callaghan, “and already start the recovery and preparation process to play vs Canada.”
More from Charles Boehm:
- Four questions for the 2023 Concacaf Nations League semifinals
- “It’s always going to be bigger than the individual”: Takeaways from USMNT’s Nations League roster release
- Takeaways from the United States’ opening matches at U-20 World Cup
- United States aims for a new level at U-20 World Cup
Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com