(REUTERS) - The contrast in competitiveness between the United States women's and men's teams was starkly exposed on Sunday (July 7), when the former won a fourth World Cup and the latter went down to Mexico in the Gold Cup final.
The 1-0 loss for the men in a regional competition the US had won six times was a missed opportunity to take a big step forward under Gregg Berhalter, who was leading the team in his first tournament as coach.
"When you talk about a step the team needs to take, we're close," he told reporters after the match in Chicago.
"But we weren't there tonight. We needed to score goals, we needed to put pressure on, and you saw tonight as the match went on, they took control and scored the winning goal."
Berhalter, who was hired in December, has called for patience during his short tenure but all results will be deemed meaningful after the US failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup, after playing in seven straight Finals from 1990.
The Americans, who were Gold Cup defending champions, certainly had another opportunity to lift a major trophy against a Mexico side missing several key players.
US midfielder Christian Pulisic, a promising 20-year-old who many expect to play a leading role in the team in the years ahead, had a couple of good chances but missed both.
Still, Berhalter said, there were some positives to take from the final.
"I think the guys will learn a lot from this game," he said.
"There's a lot of guys playing in a game like this for the first time. For us, the whole month has been about making progress. And when I look back I think we did make progress.
"This experience will help us moving forward."
Playing on the same day as their women captured headlines around the world with their triumph in France only highlighted the long road the men must travel to become a true international power.
While the women's team is a model of stability from the coaching staff through to the players, the men are still searching for the right mix.
"You're always searching for a perfect performance so when you evaluate at every game, there's things that can improve," Berhalter added.
"Defensively, we conceded two goals all tournament, chance creation I think was positive in most games but overall ... I think they did a good job of understanding that it's a long process, and you just keep having to build."
At Chicago's Soldier Field, Jonathan dos Santos scored in the 73rd minute to give his side a record-extending eighth title at the biennial tournament, which crowns the continental champions of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
"This was what we came here for" said Mexico's Andres Guardado. "We did it and in an unforgettable setting. We're very happy. The whole team was spectacular."
Mexico took control midway through the second half and got their goal when dos Santos received a back-heel pass from Raul Jimenez and fired home off the underside of the bar.
The US had a series of corners late in the game and in the 87th minute, one delivery caused havoc in the Mexico box but Hector Moreno made a big block with his face to preserve their lead.
The hosts threw everyone forward in the two minutes of stoppage time but Mexico held firm to reclaim the title they last won in 2015.
"I thought we had a good start to the game. If anything the beginning of the second half wasn't what it needed to be," said American midfielder Michael Bradley.
"They were able to get some momentum and got their goal. Tough way to lose."