The beginning of July marks the end of three major tournaments this summer, all of which will crown their champions at some point on Sunday. As the plateau of summer soccer approaches, we must appreciate what 2019 has given us. Next thing you know we’re halfway through the ICC itching for another Megan Rapinoe masterclass.
FIFA Women’s World Cup Final
USWNT vs Netherlands
We’ve covered all of the USWNT’s weekend games over this summer, but none bore nearly as much weight as Sunday morning’s final. They beat Sweden. They beat France. They beat England. But it all means nothing without the trophy.
The defending World Cup champions have shown exactly why they are favorites to repeat, though not quite in the traditional fashion. After the controversial dismantling of Thailand to kickoff the campaign, many thought that the initial assumptions would be confirmed. The US would coast through to the trophy.
This couldn’t be farther from how things actually panned out. Shortly after those assumptions, analysts were quick to wonder how the US would do with a true test. No disrespect to Thailand, of course. But as we saw against teams like Spain and France, those inquiries were vindicated.
Not without defensive struggles and tactical adjustments, the USWNT continued to find ways to win games. Fortune favored the US against Spain, but Jill Ellis’s squad was tactically superior over the French and simply higher quality than Phil Neville’s group. Grinding out results on this stage so consistently is the epitome of championship DNA.
The Netherlands have ridden the dark horse hype all the way to the final. Their journey has been just as convincing their counterparts on Sunday, winning every game in France so far this summer. Also, they’ve brought along one of the most passionate and infectious (in a good way) fan bases the tournament has ever seen.
You can’t quite say the same about the play of the Oranje so far.Though they’ve produced some of the more technically sound passing and have been lethal in front of goal, the Netherlands have become guilty of being involved in some of the more mundane periods of the tournament. The tendency to feel comfortable sitting back and defending has offset the pockets of time where the dynamic front three display their quality.
Regardless of the result, the Netherlands will be proud of the consistent achievement over the past two years. Lieke Martens and co. rose to unexpected glory in the 2017 European Championship, and have now created an opportunity to repeat recent history on Sunday. The chip on their shoulder is that they honestly have nothing to lose, which may be shown through a willingness to throw more into the attack with the trophy up for grabs.
Despite the fact that the energy level of the game have wavered for the Netherlands, all of their wins have been quite convincing. The Dutch, like the Americans, have figured out how to do just enough to pull off win and just simply manage the game. The steady composure throughout the tournament will be a valuable tool against a team the scores very early very often.
The most memorable Women’s World Cup to date is ending with one of the best matchups we could’ve asked for. The collision of two incredible stories will give the tournament the emphatic ending it deserves. That being said, I don’t think it’s meant to be for the Dutch. They have the potential to get caught off guard by the Americans energy, and by the time they regroup, the reigning champs will already be able to see out the game.
Prediction: USWNT 2, Netherlands 1
CONMEBOL Copa America Final
Brazil vs Peru
The South American Continental tournament will be conquered for the 46th time, and the pressure to win travels on a one way street straight towards the hosts. Brazil have the chance to capture the title at the prestigious Maracanã, setting as big a stage as ever for head coach Tite to cement himself in Seleção history.
Brazil has won the Copa America, known as the South American Championship up until 1975, eight times, sitting behind Uruguay (15) and Argentina (14) all-time. A heavy portion of the aforementioned pressure stems from the fact that the Seleção have won the competition each of the four times they’ve hosted it so far.
The road to the final this summer has been treacherous for the favorites, picking up a variety of headlines along the way. Their group stages results were pretty sporadic, which didn’t necessarily fill fans with confidence moving forward. After the disappointing draw with Venezuela, the tournament felt more open. Then Brazil beat fellow finalist Peru 5-0, and the hosts finished painting themselves as enigmas.
Venturing into the quarterfinals, the overall confidence of Brazil took another hit. The scoreless draw with Paraguay forced the hosts to rely on penalties to advance. Their performance left little to be desired, especially since the win booked Brazil a semifinal date with Argentina. However, after a cagey and controversial affair, the hosts have returned to the spot of heavy favorites with a chance to vindicate such a title.
Outside of the group stage loss to Brazil, Peru’s journey to the final has been nearly identical. They kicked off the tournament with a scoreless draw with Venezuela and a 3-1 victory over Bolivia, just like Sunday’s opponent. Peru advanced through the quarterfinals on penalties after drawing 0-0 with Uruguay, much too similar to the hosts.
An emphatic difference to the way Peru navigated their tournament was their performance against Chile in the semifinal. As it seemed that the defending champs were finding their stride on the way to a third straight trophy, Ricardo Gareca pieced together an unbreakable game plan that saw his team swiftly handle the Chileans.
Peru forced the issue in the first half, breaking the Chile lines and leaving Arturo Vidal with too much to handle in the defensive midfield. Their lethal finishing led them to a 2-0 lead at the half, which is often regarded as the worst lead to have because of momentum. But Peru weren’t phased at all.
The defensive performance in the second half by Peru stands unmatched in the tournament so far, with goalkeeper Pedro Gallese setting the best example. The ability to manage the high powered Chilean attack and keep the composure to kill the game off late has given many a reason to believe they can cause similar problems on Sunday.
This matchup didn’t go very well for Peru a couple weeks ago, as Brazil were able to exact revenge for being knocked out in the last Copa America. Though Peru has grown leaps and bounds from the initial demolition, the potential of them being even more open to chase the trophy might work in favor of Brazil.
Prediction: Brazil 3, Peru 1
CONCACAF Gold Cup Final
USMNT vs Mexico
In 2007, the USMNT had the chance to win successive Gold Cups for the first time, with Mexico standing in their way. A 2-1 win later and the chance was fully taken on Soldier Field in Chicago. Cut to 12 years later, and the Americans head to Soldier Field on Sunday to take on Mexico with the opportunity to win back-to-back Gold Cups, again. This should be fun.
Gregg Berhalter has done well rearranging the aftermath of missing the 2018 World Cup. Though the two losses before this summer’s tournament showed the vulnerabilities of his squad, they’ve been able to adapt well and reestablish their place among the top of CONCACAF.
The dominant wins over Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago were as good a start as US fans could have asked for. They capped off the group stage with a slightly nervy win over Panama, moved on with all nine points available. Weston Mckennie stepped up to lift the US over Curacao in the quarterfinals, in a cautious but convincing fashion.
The semifinal was a breeze for the US, who flexed their way passed Jamaica even through a lengthy weather delay. Christian Pulisic bagged a brace and left no doubt that the Americans deserved a shot at Mexico and the title.
Mexico are in a similar situation as the USMNT, but with sufficiently more expectation. Unlike the US, Mexico did qualify for Russia 2018 but continued to fall victim to the curse of the fifth game. Rebranding with new head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, Mexico entered the Gold Cup with the optimism that they can take advantage of the current rebuild the US are going through.
Martino’s side kicked off the tournament by demolishing Cuba 7-0, announcing their arrival with their chests puffed out. Mexico continued on to take care of Canada, who hold a lifetime role of dark horse within CONCACAF tournaments. Martinique gave the Mexicans more of a scare than they would have hoped, but they marched on with a perfect group stage.
Tested with Costa Rica in the quarterfinals, Mexico were held to penalties in which pulled out the victory. On paper, it seemed that Mexico had practically punched their ticket to the final when they set up their semifinal date with Haiti. However, the 2019 Cinderella story pushed Mexico to their limits, falling 1-0 thanks to a controversial Raul Jimenez penalty kick.
Now, Mexico are set to face their continental rivals in the final, which bodes pretty well for them looking back. This fixture has been played in the final five times since the competition changed to “Gold Cup” in 1991. Of those five games, Mexico has won four, by a combined score of 15-2. Needless to say the label of favorites doesn’t go unwarranted here.
The US are in the midst of a much needed rebuild, considering being in this position wasn’t a given at the beginning of the year. Berhalter has been instrumental in helping the team grow, and has instilled belief that they can lift the trophy this year. If Pulisic and Mckennie get the kind of chances Mexico conceded to Haiti, then I believe the US have enough to take it.
Prediction: USMNT 2, Mexico 1