Two years and nine months after the first Concacaf Nations League qualifying match and one year after the final was originally scheduled to be played, the U.S. National Team lifted the inaugural Concacaf Nations League trophy after a 3-2 win over Mexico in the final on Sunday in Denver.
The match carried all of the typical drama of any U.S.-Mexico matchup, with the added incentive of a trophy on the line. The victory gave the U.S. and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter a statement win and plenty of momentum heading into this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup and World Cup Qualifying matches in the fall.
Not to mention some excitement heading into Wednesday night’s friendly against Costa Rica at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Mexico got off to a tremendous start off of a defensive error by Mark McKenzie as Jesus Corona picked the ball off his foot and hammered a shot past Zach Steffen for the 1-0 lead in just the second minute of the match. After a 24th minute goal by Mexico was waved off after review, the U.S. equalized in the 27th minute when Gio Reyna put in the rebound of a shot that hit off the upright, sending the match into halftime at 1-1.
As the second half motored on, Steffen would come up injured and was replaced by Ethan Horvath. While he would prove to be a hero later in the match, it didn’t take long for Mexico to reclaim the lead after his entry into the match, as Diego Lainez smashed a left-footed shot from just inside the box to beat Horvath inside the near post to take a 2-1 lead in the 79th minute.
The lead didn’t last long though.
In the 82nd minute, Weston McKennie – whose first-half header off the upright led to Reyna’s goal – scored with his head off a corner kick to level the match at 2-2. After neither team could find a winner before 90 minutes, the match went to extra time, elevating the drama at Empower Field at Mile High.
In the 108th minute, Christian Pulisic was brought down in the box and after a lengthy video review that led to the ejection of Mexico coach Tata Martino, a penalty was awarded. Pulisic converted from the spot to give the U.S. the 3-2 advantage.
With 12 minutes left, there was still plenty of time for more drama.
In the 119th minute, a scramble in the box led to another video review and Mexico was awarded a penalty for a handball in the box. Andres Guardado hit his shot to his left and Horvath guessed correctly, stopping the penalty in the fourth minute of stoppage time to preserve victory.
The U.S. will now ready for the conclusion of its four-match stretch with a friendly at Rio Tinto Stadium against Costa Rica. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. MT with tickets available by calling 844-REAL-TIX (844-732-5849). Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa was on the bench for the semifinal against Honduras and the final on Sunday, but did not appear in either contest.