CONCACAF Gold Cup final: Best bets for U.S.-Mexico

By Paul Carr  ( 


Both pre-tournament favorites reached Sunday’s Gold Cup final in Las Vegas, as the United States and Mexico meet eight weeks after the U.S. beat Mexico 3-2 in the Nations League final.

The U.S. roster is far different now, with Kellyn Acosta the only remaining starter, plus Reggie Cannon and Sebastian Lletget, who were subs in the Nations League final. However, Mexico has a much larger portion of its A-team, returning nine players who appeared in June’s final. That’s part of the reason Mexico is favored (-160 to lift the trophy), and El Tri has been more impressive throughout this Gold Cup.

Is Mexico winning the best bet in this game?

The U.S. has won all five games in the tournament and scored one more goal than Mexico, which has four wins and a draw thus far (the draw was 0-0 in a game in which Mexico outshot Trinidad & Tobago 30-4). The U.S. hasn’t looked great outside of maybe the 6-1 rout of Martinique, winning the other four games by identical 1-0 scores. 

Mexico has far more shots (92 to 58) than the U.S., and nearly 50% more expected goals (12.5 to 8.4), a metric that tallies up how many goals a team would typically score, given the specific shots taken. Each team has conceded one goal, though the U.S. has been the beneficiary of poor opponent finishing and good goalkeeping.

Mexico has allowed 34 shots to 65 for the U.S., and 1.6 expected goals compared to 5.8 for the U.S. Props to American keeper Matt Turner, who’s been the best shot-stopper in MLS for several years -- he’s made a tournament-high 18 saves and prevented 3.5 goals, based on the shots on target he’s faced. The U.S. will need him at his best to stay with Mexico on Sunday. 

Defensively, Mexico surely won’t be as bad at guarding set pieces as in the Nations League final, when the first two U.S. goals came from corner kicks. Mexico has conceded only eight shots from set pieces through five games, though against admittedly weaker competition.

I’m not overthinking this one, let’s take the better team to win in regulation at plus money.

Pick: Mexico to win in regulation (+ 130)

I also like Mexico to start this game in a strong way. El Tri has outshot opponents 50-13 in the first half at this Gold Cup, leading at halftime in four of five games and outshooting Trinidad & Tobago 19-3 in the first half of the other game. 

U.S. was outshot 13-3 by Qatar in the first half, and Mexico can do everything Qatar can do in terms of pressuring midfield and attacking quickly, only better. Mexico has completed 55 more passes than the U.S. on average at the Gold Cup, moving the ball 30 yards toward the opponent’s goal each possession, also the most in the tournament. I fear that the relatively inexperienced U.S. midfield and backline won’t be ready for Mexico’s intensity.

Miles Robinson has been perhaps the best American in the tournament, and fellow center back James Sands may have played his way onto a World Cup qualifying roster this fall. But Sands is more comfortable playing in a back three than a back two, as suggested by mistakes against Qatar. And 19-year-old midfielder Gianluca Busio has shown promise while being physically handled too often during the tournament. Acosta provides some steel in midfield, but not enough to disrupt Mexico.

In June’s Nations League final, the first-choice U.S. team took much of the first half to adjust to the tempo of the game, and many of those players are playing in top European leagues and competitions. I expect more of the same Sunday, so I’ll play Mexico to win the first half.

Pick: Mexico to win first half (+ 200)

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