(Reuters) - The contrast in competitiveness between the United States women and men's teams was starkly exposed on Sunday 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 U.S. had won six times before 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," Berhalter 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 United States failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals.
The Americans certainly had another opportunity to lift a major trophy against a Mexico side missing several key players.
U.S. 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."
(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)