Maurice Edu Looks Back On The ‘Classic’ Nations League Final Between The USMNT And Mexico

Last Sunday, the United States Men’s National Team won the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League final, knocking off a battle-tested Mexico side in extra time, 3-2. It was a thrilling game, the latest in what has been an historic rivalry between the United States and Mexico on the pitch. And as someone who has experienced these matches in a number of different formats — as a player, as a spectator, and now as a broadcaster — Maurice Edu is keenly aware of how special the whole thing was.

“I think I’m finally recovered from what was a crazy final, but even more so, a pretty crazy week, a fun week, a reunion of sorts for me, personally,” Edu told Uproxx Sports over Zoom on Friday morning.

The final was a chance for Edu and the CBS Sports/Paramount+ crew to show off its presentation for these sorts of CONCACAF matches, and the early returns couldn’t have been more promising. Edu sat in the booth with Andres Cordero, while a number of others — Kate Abdo, Marcelo Balboa, Nico Cantor, Jenny Chu, Charlie Davies, Clint Dempsey, Janelly Farias, Adrian Garcia-Marquez, Oguchi Onyewu — covered things from just about every possible angle.

“Getting the chance to be back with guys that were former teammates — Clint, Gooch, Charlie,” Edu says. “And then, I’ve worked with Kate before, Kate’s amazing. It was a really fun group to be around, a really diverse group, everyone really welcoming and excited for the opportunity. And it just seemed very, very natural from the from the onset, even before we got on camera, just off camera stuff, the interaction between everyone. That was me meeting Dre for the first time, I knew Adrian already from working with him before getting the chance to link up again with Nico and Jenny. As I said before, Kate and Marcelo, and having a current Mexican Women’s National Team player in Janelly involved added another amazing voice and perspective to our crew. She was fun and incredible to work with, and I loved her banter and analysis back-and-forth with Charlie and I.

“So it was a great group of people to bring along and to be a part of this,” Edu continues. “And we’re all excited about how things went and how it turned out, the feedback we got, and more importantly, what a final game to be a part of.”

With the benefit of a few days to look back on the whole thing — Edu says he’s re-watched the final and plans on doing his third viewing on Friday — we caught up with the former USMNT midfielder to discuss a match that he believes will go down as one of the best between the rival sides.

It’s been a little under a week since the final. Have you totally processed just how good that game was yet, both as someone who was there broadcasting it, and as a former national team player who has seen a lot of really good games between the US and Mexico?

I think now I have. In the moment, you’re lost in the game, you just get so caught up in the game. And you’re right, there were just so many variables, so many … you try to predict these kind of matches beforehand, talking about it in the pre-game and what to look for. But this game threw you a bunch of curveballs. And I think from our perspective, having played in those kind of games, but then even just taking a step back and just being a fan, it was just a beautiful game to watch.

I was thoroughly impressed by the character that I saw from the players, and to answer your question specifically, yeah, I think now that I’ve had a chance to just sit back, have conversations with people, look at the game again, it’s kind of a wow moment, right? To be a part of that game, to have our voices attached to that game. I think this is obviously going to be a classic game in the U.S.-Mexico rivalry, and so to have our voices be attached to that when this game is being replayed 5, 10 years from now, I think it’s one that you look back on, you could just smile and be proud of what we did. But also, what happened on the pitch, because without that, our part is almost null and void.

So it’s just, overall, it turned out to be an incredible event for all parties involved, and yes, I think now I can finally, truly appreciate what we did and what we witnessed.

How many times have you gone back and watched it?

I’m gonna watch it again today, that’ll be my third time. [laughs]

You’ve played against Mexico, you’ve seen plenty of games between the U.S. and Mexico. Was there anything that this game had that all of those best games — the Dos a Ceros, the Gold Cup finals, those really cagey matches at the Azteca — all share?

You know, we approach this game — I think everyone, fans, media — everyone approached this game as like, “this will be the real test for this U.S. team,” right? They’ve gone through a year of playing friendlies where they looked impressive, in just about every game, but the first game that they played against a better, a higher-level opponent was against Switzerland [in the lead-up to the Nations League], and there was mixed emotions coming out of that game, mixed feelings about … there were some positives, but then a lot of negatives as well.

And so this was gonna be the measuring stick in terms of how prepared are they, really, for qualifying and all the variables and all the craziness that goes on with CONCACAF qualifying, and I think we left this game feeling really pleased. There’s, of course, the predictable scuffles that happened between U.S. and Mexico. There’s the unpredictable — you go down a goal in the first minute of the game, and then you finally find the character within this squad, and you see them battle and fight back. We knew that this team was talented, we knew that they could score unbelievable goals, that they could create attacking-wise, they were really blessed in terms of this generation of players. I think the question mark that we all had was how are they in terms of dealing with adversity, and where’s their character, how is their mentality? And we left this game feeling good, I left this game feeling really good.

Are there still things that can be improved? Of course, but I think just from the back-and-forth, sway of the game, going down a goal, coming back, going down a goal, coming back, getting the go-ahead goal, the the passion the fans — as I said, there’s so many games that I played in on home soil where it’s just predominantly Mexican fans, and the American voices are just … they’re muted out, because it’s just such a dominating presence for the Mexican fans.

But that wasn’t the case in this game, it was a back-and-forth, a good little sway. And from my perspective, I think this is one of the things that I really enjoy about calling games and being on the media side of things, although I do miss playing. When you’re playing, you see the atmosphere, you feel the energy, but there are certain things that you miss that you can’t focus on, because you’re in the midst of the game, and things happen so quickly, so you have tunnel vision.

But from my perspective, now, having a chance to hone in on different things that are happening in the crowd and seeing the fans and actually fully appreciating them, it adds a different layer of beauty to the game from my standpoint, and this is a rivalry that sometimes, we hype it up so much, and then it’s hard to measure up to, but this one lived up to it and even beyond that. Again, I won’t stop echoing the sentiments of pride that I felt being a part of it, but then also, the pride that I felt being an American on that day and watching these players compete and do what they did.

And then in terms of what we saw in the match, I mean, you keep mentioning they went down 1-0 and and came back. Well, they were down 2-0 for a stretch of 90 seconds there. But the goal gets disallowed, Gio comes back, scores in the next passage of play. And I thought that kind of changed the dynamic of the match. Would you agree with that, and were there other moments that you thought really defined what the U.S. was able to do in this match?

I definitely think that was a defining moment. If you go 2-0 down at that point, it’s really deflating. Being in front of home fans, that may be quite a storm, and then Mexican fans’ presence starts to be a little bit more dominating, and then your back’s against the wall, you have to start taking a little bit more risk, and that opens the game up, and then a potential third goal could come. VAR played a role in this game on a few different occasions, and on that one, they got it right. And so I think you’re right, that gave them a little bit of life. Gio young kid, 18 years old, he makes his presence known and gets a tying goal, and I think that was just that little boost of confidence in this group, that kind of spark for them to get going again. And by and large, I think they gave as good as they got in this game, and ultimately, they found a way to be the better side, to quiet all the doubters, to show that although Mexico was the more experienced side — they’d won the Gold Cup in 2019 — that this team was hungry and that this tournament meant something.

I think there was a little underlying theme where people were trying to discredit how important this tournament actually was. And these players, both sides, both teams competed with heart and showed that this tournament meant something, that regardless of what’s at stake, when it’s U.S.-Mexico, you don’t need that added little incentive to go out there and compete. But having a trophy and having an opportunity to walk across the stage, and have your opponent watch you walk across that stage, there’s nothing better than that feeling.

So Dre Cordero said that you mentioned, right as extra time started, that we’re learning a lot about this young team. What were — both at that time and now that we’ve had a few days to process it, that you’ve had the chance go back to watch it — the biggest thing or things that you think that we learned about this version of the United States men’s national team?

They’re hard. They’re a team that’s resilient, they’re a team that has heart, they have character, and these kind of games, a lot of it is a test of mentality. You can get caught up in the antics that that go into these games, and that can throw you off your game, but I think that they … when it came time to scrap, they’re ready to scrap, when it came time to show a little bit of flair, a little bit of taking risk in the final third, take chances to create, they did that. When it came time to be resolute defensively, they did that as well. So there were so many boxes that they ticked that impressed me.

And then even looking at Gregg Berhalter, he was, I think, one of the figures in this match who was probably, a lot of eyes were focused on him. Like, what was he going to do with this game? Was this game gonna be a defining moment for him? If they didn’t win this game, I think a lot of fingers would have been pointed at him, and you know what? I think tactically he made some good decisions. He played with a formation that was flexible, that allowed them to get the best out of this group of players. And ultimately, it was a match against Mexico, with a trophy on the line, and he won. And by the way, he was wearing Travis Scott 6s, so he gets a he gets a big thumbs up in my book for that.

Okay, so that was gonna be my last question, but I’ll bump this up now — what made you happier, literally anything on the pitch or that moment when you realized Gregg was in the Travis Scott 6s?

I’m a sneakerhead, so. [laughs] We’ve been seeing this trend in MLS and a little bit in Europe as well, where coaches are taking a little bit more pride, they’re showing a little bit of swag in how they present themselves on the sideline. And so, when I saw that, I couldn’t wait to get it in. I was trying to tap Dre and trying to figure out a way to get that on air, for sure. And then the moment presented itself because Gregg was just active on the sideline, trying to get the ball back in play as quickly as possible, chasing down balls and throwing them to the players. And as soon as I saw that, I said, “yup, I gotta highlight this, I have to shout it out.” Because I’m sure there are viewers watching who were like, “there’s no way he’s wearing those, it can’t be.” Like, I haven’t even worn mine yet, and this guy’s wearing them on air in the Nations League final. So for sure, I had to shout that out, and I’m glad that he wore them, and I’m glad that they won, because then, it just makes for an even more memorable moment.

Yeah, when I went back and rewatched, you said that and I immediately like went on to Twitter to search. I was like, “Oh, damn, go Gregg.”

When it comes to the players, was there anyone that confirmed your priors on them for better or worse over the course of these matches?

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Ethan Horvath stood out, right? I don’t think people really, truly understand how hard it is to do what he just did. To come into a game cold, you can get a couple of shots taken at you on the sideline real quick, throw a couple balls back and forth with the trainer, but there’s no replicating coming into a match as a keeper. And for a keeper, especially that level of intensity of a match, you don’t always get a chance to feel your way into the game, and you’re tested early, and he stood up to the challenge, he made some big saves throughout the course of extra time and regulation. And then that moment, the penalty kick, and it’s Andres Guardado who steps to take it, an experienced player, captain of the Mexican national team, been involved with the Mexican national team for I don’t even know how many years at this point.

So I think at that point, every Mexican fan in the crowd was probably feeling really confident, going against a keeper who had just been subbed in, wasn’t the starting keeper, hasn’t been playing regularly with his club team, as well. So what a massive moment for him, a kid who’s from Denver, as well. I just thought that he took his moment. I think within the national team, and sports in general, it’s about just being ready when your name is called upon, maybe cliche to say it, but it’s reality — being ready when your name is called upon and, and taking advantage of your opportunity.

Now, does that leapfrog him into the number one spot? No, but I think what it does do is it maybe asks a few more questions of Gregg in terms of, look, there’s a little bit more competition for this spot. In my mind, I still think Zack Steffen is a clear number one, but I think even Ethan Horvath did himself a world of good with that performance.

I look at other guys, I was happy to see Tyler Adams finally getting back. He’s a guy that I think has been missed through these last few games and his presence in the team, it just brings a whole different dynamic to what that team is capable of. I think without him, it maybe forces Weston McKennie to be a little bit more honest defensively and maybe take a deeper … in my mind, I would prefer him to take a deeper starting position. But with Tyler on the pitch, I think it gives him a green light, it gives Weston a green light to go and express himself, to go and cover all the ground that we know he can cover, to make those runs out of midfield that he does so well. And that’s because Tyler has the ability to cover so much ground, to put out fires, to really protect that back four, to be that linchpin between the backline and the attack and starting transition moments.

And the other one that I think I would probably mention would be Gio Reyna. I think he showed a level of confidence, of fearlessness. Are there things he can improve on? For sure, he’s only 18 years old, and I think when we assess him, we forget about that, which is probably the biggest compliment that you could pay him, is that you don’t really take into account his age when you’re talking about him, until you have a second where you’re like, “wait a minute, he’s only 18, there’s still a lot more to come.” I tell you what, at 18, I was nowhere near making the national team, nowhere near starting in a match for the national team, scoring a goal and in any kind of final. So, I give him a tremendous amount of credit, the progression that we’ve seen, the level of confidence that we’ve seen, again, to shine in moments, to take risks, to be that confident player at such a young age, I’m really excited for what the future holds for him.

Yeah, and I think the thing that surprised me the most, kind of broadly, was that you saw a bunch of guys who’ve never been in this situation. Like, Mexico had Memo Ochoa, they had Hector Herrera, they had Andres Guardado, all these guys who have been in these matches before. And there’s some bumps, but Gio looked up for the moment, Weston McKennie looked up for the moment, Tyler Adams, Tim Weah comes on and looked up for the moment, all these guys. I think the biggest compliment you probably pay is that all of them seemed like it wasn’t their first huge match against Mexico.

What I would say to that is they needed this game, right? They needed this game collectively, they needed it individually, because you’re right, this was the first game for quite a few of them and against Mexico. But more importantly, this is the first trophy that they’ve won collectively as a national team. And I think that’s important. I think we sometimes neglect the importance of developing and fostering a winning mentality. We think that just because players are maybe individual winners, that they won with their club teams, that that mentality just naturally transitions over. Well, no, it takes moments like this, it takes moments where you’re forced to deal with adversity, you galvanize as a group, you look each other in the eye, and you figure out a way that, hey, we’re gonna figure out a way to get this done, and they had that moment. They had that moment.

And so that’s why now, going into into qualifying, I’m really bullish. I was already bullish about this group, anyway, but I’m excited now for qualifying to get started. I think they needed that match, it was a chance to mature, to grow, to progress, to take another step in the right direction. And from a confidence standpoint, now, you’re right, they could look at each other and say, “we’ve been in the trenches, we played against an experienced side, a side that was probably pegged to beat us, and we figured out, we got it done in the biggest moment on home soil.” And when you talk about the confidence for a group of young players, moments like this are massive.

We’re getting into a really big summer for them, there is the Gold Cup, World Cup qualifying is about to start up, all these guys are going to be going back to their clubs, those sorts of things. Are there any big outstanding questions of the national team, or do you have the belief that there’s a sense of stability in the players and the coaches and the program as a whole?

I think that there’s always going to be variables that come into play. Guys are going to go back to the club teams and you’re worried about them staying healthy and all those kinds of things as well. I think the Gold Cup is interesting, because we’re gonna see a different roster, it’s an opportunity now for some guys, more so MLS players I would imagine, who are now going to get an opportunity to start knocking on that door a little bit louder, announcing themselves to Gregg Berhalter and saying that we want to be more than depth pieces, we want to be involved in that 23-man roster, we want to be involved and playing in qualifying. And so, I look at it from a holistic approach of there were a lot of questions answered by this first group of players who we have kind of deemed as the A-group, per se.

But within that, the squad, the group of this whole generation, I think, is a pretty deep one. And now there’s an opportunity with the Gold Cup, a chance to win another trophy this summer, first of all, which speaks highly for the whole program and what they’re trying to accomplish and the direction they’re trying to go. And then again, I just talked about opportunity — opportunity for Gregg to see more players, for Gregg to test out more players, for more players to impress and show themselves well in front of Gregg. Because in the back of everyone’s mind, although they want to win a trophy, they want to win the Gold Cup, these players are competing because they want to be involved in World Cup qualifiers and ultimately, knock on wood, the World Cup.

So every opportunity that you get to represent your country, whether it’s a competitive match or a friendly match, you can’t take it lightly. And with the Gold Cup being that last chance before qualifiers, these players are going to be out there trying to show that they want to be a part of those qualifiers.

Yeah, and then ultimately, if Matt Turner gets his name in the goalkeeper pool, Miles Robinson at centerback, all these dudes, iron sharpens iron. The best possible thing that could happen is another eight guys throw their names in the hat this summer.

Oh, for sure. The best-case scenario for Gregg is that he has more competition, he has more questions to answer, right? I think there’s probably, and I can’t speak for him, but there is a handful of names that are probably inked in that first XI. And then from there, there’s spots up for grabs, whether it’s the number nine position, whether it’s, I don’t know, centerback or whatever that looks like, there are spots up for grabs, and these guys have to approach it with that mentality, that this is my chance to force Gregg’s hand in some way, to make him make a difficult decision. And from Gregg standpoint, it’s a great position to be in, where you have a deep group of players — young players, because of course, you’re thinking about the here and now, but ultimately, we’re also trying to forecast things into the future.

But more importantly, the initial focus for everyone in the group, the fans because of what happened last time, is to qualify for this next World Cup.