ARLINGTON, Texas — Say what you will about the lackluster performance and — let’s be real — the lucky, fluky, last-second own goal that saved the U.S. men’s national team from suffering a humiliating 1-0 defeat to Jamaica in Thursday’s Concacaf Nations League semifinal.

None of it means anything anymore.

All that matters now for the Americans is winning Sunday’s grand finale against its historic nemesis, Mexico. Do that in anything resembling convincing fashion in front of a house filled with El Tri fans at Jerry World, and few will remember how perilously close the U.S. came to the brink before hoisting this trophy for the third consecutive time.

That’s not to say the “hosts” — for all intents and purposes, the U.S. will be playing an away game on home soil Sunday — can’t take any lessons from Thursday’s near disaster.

“We’ve already kind of analyzed the film from the other night, and we know that we expect a bit more from ourselves,” U.S. defender Chris Richards said Saturday morning before the Americans trained in nearby Frisco.  “We know that, especially against a team like Mexico, that the crowd is not going to be on our side. So we’ll definitely be fighting an uphill battle if we come out as slow as we did [against the Reggae Boyz].”

Even if Gregg Berhalter’s team avoids the same sort of early self-inflicted wound, this match figures to look vastly different. Jamaica was always expected to sit deep and defend with as many players as possible behind the ball for most of the night. It simply doubled down on that ultra-conservative approach after taking its shocking lead after just 30 seconds, frustrating the Americans for the next 95 minutes.

Mexico won’t play that way. After failing to beat its hated rival in six straight tries since 2021, El Tri is desperate to prove to their ravenous supporters and themselves that they can stand toe-to-toe with the two-time defending champions. Another defensive slog this won’t be.

“I think it suits us a little bit more,” U.S. defender Antonee “Jedi” Robinson said of the prospect on a free-flowing championship matchup. “If we’re playing against a team that’s going take a lot more risks in possession, it might end up being a little bit more open and there will be more space to exploit.”

The return of attacking right back Sergiño Dest on Sunday should help to that end. Dest was suspended for Thursday’s encounter after picking up a red card in the quarterfinals.

“Sergiño adding that offensive quality is a wonderful thing,” winger Tim Weah said. “It just helps me a lot on that side. It allows me to use some more of my other qualities rather than just being on the ball all the time. I can let him handle the ball, and I could get behind the defense and run a lot more than I did against Jamaica.”

Yet tactics account only for one  part of any derby match. They often don’t mean much unless the will to win every tackle and every 50-50 ball is also there.

“I think it’s just more of a case of intensity,” said U.S. forward Folarin Balogun. “If we’re able to add that to our game, which we did in the second half [on Thursday], we can really put teams under pressure. And that causes them to make more mistakes and allows us to have the ball longer.”

There’s also such thing as playing with too much intensity, something the U.S. perhaps was guilty of when these teams last met: a 3-0 U.S. win in the 2022-23 Nations League semis in which both teams finished the match with nine men. While the Americans obviously would take a repeat of that scoreline, they want to finish the game with 11 players on the field in Sunday’s rematch. 

“We’ve talked about it a lot, obviously going back to incidents we’ve had where emotions have sort of spiraled and gotten out of control,” Robinson said. “We don’t want to lessen our chances [of winning] by losing players on the pitch or succumbing to emotions and getting bookings and things like that. So it’s definitely an experience that we grew from.”

The same can be said for the nightmare start last time around.

“We paid the price for a moment of not being tuned in the first 30 seconds of game, and that made it extremely difficult for us,” Berhalter said. “We obviously wouldn’t have scripted it like that. 

“But I also think it’s good for the growth of this group to have to endure situations like that and gain the confidence that we can. And now we put that game behind us, we learn from it.

“Every game has its own story,” the coach added. “This is a final. We’re trying to get our third trophy in a row. And we’re highly motivated.”

Doug McIntyre is a soccer reporter for FOX Sports. He was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports before joining FOX Sports in 2021, and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at FIFA World Cups on five continents. Follow him @ByDougMcIntyre.

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