U.S. surges past a rising Canada squad to capture another Nations League crown

U.S. players celebrate after defeating Canada in a CONCACAF Nations League final at Allegiant Stadium.
U.S. players celebrate after defeating Canada in a CONCACAF Nations League final at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Sunday night.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

Canada came into Sunday’s Nations League final eager to prove it belongs among the region’s soccer royalty. The U.S. came in looking to polish its crown.

And when it was over, the king still was ensconced safely on the throne, with Chris Richards and Folarin Balogun scoring their first international goals — both off assists from Gio Reyna — in a 2-0 victory at a half-empty Allegiant Stadium.

In the third-place game, Mexico beat Panama 1-0 on Jesús Gallardo’s goal in the fourth minute.


Canada, playing in a final for the first time in 23 years, was riding a huge wave of momentum under coach John Herdman. It won last year’s World Cup qualifying tournament, going unbeaten in four games with the U.S. and Mexico. Sunday it was playing for a trophy for the first time in a generation.

After U.S. Soccer reviewed allegations of domestic violence, it is bringing Gregg Berhalter back to coach the men’s national team.

June 16, 2023

Team USA’s response?

Whoa, Canada. Your time may be coming, but it’s not here yet.

The U.S. proved that with a comfortable if not resounding victory that ran its unbeaten streak to six games and gave it wins in three straight regional finals, two in Nations League play and the other in the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Herdman, however, will take the progress.

“We’re closing gaps,” he said. “The guys, many of them were more comfortable with the performance [but] disappointed at not winning. They know they were right there tonight.”

U.S. manager B.J. Callaghan, who won a championship in his second game as a head coach, agreed.

“Canada is a really good team,” said Callaghan, an assistant under Gregg Berhalter, who will return as the team’s manager when the CONCACAF Gold Cup ends next month. “First of all, they’re really well coached. They’re really well-organized. It was quite a chess match tonight.”

U.S. striker Folarin Balogun celebrates after scoring against Canada in the first half Sunday.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

And Callaghan made the two moves that put Canada in checkmate. First, he made sure his team, the youngest the U.S. has started in a tournament final, had two, sometimes three defenders ready to collapse on Canadian winger Alphonso Davies every time he got the ball. And second, Callaghan emphasized set pieces, something which plagued the U.S. in last fall’s World Cup.

On Sunday the team was spectacular on set pieces, using one to score the only goal it would need in the 12th minute when Richards ran on to a Reyna corner kick and headed a one-hop shot under Canadian keeper Milan Borjan. That made Richards the only American to score his first international goal in a final.

That distinction lasted just 22 minutes before Balogun joined him, doubling the advantage for a U.S. team that was without midfielder Weston McKennie and defender Sergiño Dest, both of whom were on red-card suspensions. Reyna, who was spectacular before coming out at the half with a calf injury, set up that one too, taking a headed pass near midfield and dribbling through traffic before pushing the ball ahead for Balogun. The U.S. striker used his body to shield the ball from Canadian defender Scott Kennedy long enough to set up a shot into the bottom right corner for his first international goal.

U.S. forward Christian Pulisic controls the ball in front of Canada's Richmond Laryea during the first half Sunday.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

That gave Reyna a goal and three assists in two CONCACAF Nations League title games, the most goal contributions in championship finals of any player in U.S. history. Notably, Sunday’s performance came at the end of a trying seven-month period in which Reyna was at the center of the controversy swirling around Berhalter, a tempest that began at last fall’s World Cup when Reyna was nearly sent home for a lack of effort in training.

Christian Pulisic, who was named the tournament’s outstanding player, said it’s time to close the book on that now that Berhalter is on his way back.


“For me, there’s no issue with Gio at all,” Pulisic said. “What happened, happened. He’s a great player, and he’s going to help us moving forward no matter who the coach is.”

For Canada’s coach, meanwhile, the challenge is to squeeze just a little more out of his group before the 2026 World Cup, which Canada will host along with the U.S. and Mexico. But the impediment now isn’t talent, he said, it’s funding.

Christian Pulisic and Ricardo Pepi scored during a USMNT CONCACAF Nations League semifinal win over Mexico marred by red cards and homophobic chants.

June 16, 2023

“It’s the preparation period, which does cost a lot of money,” he said. “We’ve got the best generation of players we’ve ever had. We’ve got to figure this out financially. We’ve got to get serious about winning a World Cup.

“When you play at home, you get a chance to win. You get a chance to get to a semifinal, a quarterfinal, the final, and then get on that road to win it. And we’re not serious. We’re not serious about winning. You see how close our team is tonight. Tactically, we were there. These players, they deserve it. They deserve a shot.”

In the third-place game, new Mexican manager Diego Cocca, missing center back César Montes and outside back Gerardo Arteaga because of red cards, made six changes to the lineup he used against the U.S. on Thursday. One of those was former Galaxy defender Julián Araujo, who was starting for the first time in a competitive match. And he needed less than four minutes to make an impact by contributing to the build-up on the game’s only goal.

It started with Araujo slipping a pass to Uriel Antuna, rushing into the penalty area on the right side. Antuna, another former Galaxy player, then delivered an errant cross to the front of goal that eluded both Santiago Giménez and Ozziel Herrera, rolling instead to Gallardo, who was unmarked in on the other side of the box. He had an easy, left-footed finish, scoring before many in the matinee crowd had found their seats.


Mexico’s performance was underwhelming after that, however, with Panama dominating just about everywhere but on the scoreboard.