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U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter, Mexico boss Tata Martino trade barbs ahead of Gold Cup

LAS VEGAS — United States men’s national team manager Gregg Berhalter called out Mexico’s players for overly physical play in the past, and asked that the referee be “fair” ahead of Sunday’s Gold Cup final between the two sides.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the game, Berhalter referenced previous matches against Mexico in which El Tri players had grabbed their opponents by the neck. One example was in the CONCACAF Nations League final on June 6 when Mexico midfielder Hector Herrera gabbed U.S. counterpart Weston McKennie by the throat. In Thursday’s semifinal between Mexico and Canada, cameras caught Luis Rodriguez doing the the same to Canada midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye.

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“We want it to be a physical game. We want it to be a tough, contested game, the same way as Mexico. They want the same thing,” said Berhalter. “But we also want it to be fair, and that’s the referee’s role in this game, to manage the game in a fair way. You know I’ve seen numerous times when the players from Mexico are grabbing players’ necks and facial areas, and that has no place in the game. We can’t have that in the game.

“We want our guys to battle. We want both teams to battle. We want it to be physical. But that has no place in the game. When I saw the semifinal [between Canada and Mexico] I didn’t think the referee did a good job of managing that at all. And they need to get ahead of that. There can’t be any hands to the neck or to the face.”

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When asked later about Berhalter’s comments, Mexico manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino shot back that Berhalter’s actions after the U.S. scored against Qatar — in which the U.S. manager gestured at the fourth official — should also be punished. It was a curious tack from Martino given that he was red carded in the Nations League final for putting a hand on head official John Pitti during a VAR review.

“The official [on Sunday] will do the best he can during the match. Against Qatar, I don’t think it was right how [Berhalter] behaved with the fourth official,” Martino stated.

After the Qatar match, Berhalter apologized for his actions.

As for Sunday’s game itself, Mexico comes in favored against a youthful U.S. side. But Berhalter said “I don’t give much credit” to the notion that the U.S. is playing with house money after reaching the final.

“I think it’s a disservice to our guys,” said Berhalter. “I think it’s a disservice to our team. The guys want to win this game. We’re gonna do everything we can to win this game, and if we don’t win this game, I can guarantee you we’re going to be bitterly disappointed.”

Berhalter added that only area in which his side has exceeded expectations is the mentality of the group.

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“You never know exactly how the group is going to come together when you name the roster,” he said. “And I’ve been absolutely amazed at the cohesiveness of this group, and how players are responding to challenges and how the team is so focused on our goals,” he said.

Martino said it was irrelevant to focus on the perceived level of the USMNT squad or on any players that weren’t part of Berhalter’s side.

“We’ll play against the U.S. and against the players that their manager included for this Gold Cup … the reasoning for those picked isn’t relevant to us, we are the facing U.S. in another final and we seek to win,” Martino added.

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