The United States Men’s National Team collided with the Mexican National Team, in the CONCACAF Nations League Final. This their 2nd straight championship final, after the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which saw Mexico walk out champion.
Now, this was more than just another Gold Cup encounter, like those of yesteryear. This was to crown a first ever champion.
Mexico and the US pulled off an instant classic, with no one dominating the game. As time progressed, the game got harder and harder to call. The late heroic Ethan Horvath save, of Andre Guardado’s penalty kick, sealed the 3-2 game for Mexico.
Regardless, this game was polluted with moments that could have altered either the outcome of the game, or the overall feel-good victory.
- Loser: Chucky Lozano
This was the match where Lozano could have elevated his career, enroute to reaching the likes of the legendary Javier “Chicarito” Hernández and Cuauhtémoc Blanco. The Napoli winger had one brief second to score, and extend Mexico’s league. His footing was off, and his shot was ineffective. There were a few instances, in which Lozano caught the American’s defenses off-guard, but his best efforts didn’t give him the goal.
The comparisons between Lozano and US star player Christian Pulisic were big talking points, before the game. With the loss, the bigger star here is Pulisic.
- Winner: Jesús Manuel Corona
Tecatito Corona boosted Mexico’s confidence, in the opening two minutes. An unprepared US defense allowed Corona to score an easy goal. The loss won’t change the fact that Corona scored one the fastest goals in the Mexico-USMNT rivalry. Early goals aren’t the easiest to achieve, and it’s an honor to have those in your resume. From now on, the US now knows better than to leave Corona uncovered, even for a few seconds.
- Loser: John Pitti
Ref ball, the killer of hopes and dreams. It appeared in the form of Panamanian referee John Pitti. How and why Pitti got assigned as ref for the match needs to be known. The issue here is questionable bias, against either team.
Panama’s soccer history against Mexico and the United States is not the best. It was the United States who eliminated Panama in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, thus opening a spot for Mexico in an international playoff match, against New Zealand. In the group stage of the tournament, Mexico scored a total of six goals, to one, in two matches.
The Final featured two controversial penalties, one for each team. The US’ penalty raised a lot of flags, as fans and commentators agreed that it was not the right call. Pulisic was brought down, inside the box, by Carlos Salcedo. But, in every angle view available, it was clear that Salecdo made contact with the ball first, before Pulisic went down. Pitti saw otherwise. This 2014 FIFA World Cup revisited, when the Netherlands eliminated Mexico, via an awarded and converted penalty kick, after Argen Robben was brought down, inside the Mexican box.
In the closing minutes of this chapter, a hand ball by Mark McKenzie, was deemed worthy enough for Pitti to consult with the VAR. The penalty was awarded. Guardado’s shot was saved, to preserve the US victory.
- Winner: Christian Pulisic
Speaking of comparisons, Pulisic put himself in the spotlight throughout the game. Like Lozano, Pulisic demonstrated his brilliance, in and out. The Chelsea star was creating holes and pressuring the Mexican defense, into making hasty and costly decisions.
Pulisic established himself as a threat for years to come, after scoring a controversial penalty, which sealed the game. He also became the first American, since Landon Donovan, to score a penalty against Mexico, since ironically the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final. Who won that game? The US. It’s performances and matches like these, where Pulisic will be able to transcend beyond the legacies of Donovan and Clint Dempsey.
- Dishonorable Mention: The Mexican Fans
Mexico’s fans are nothing short of being passionate for their squad. The team is supposed to be a representation of Mexico, in a good light. And in a certain way, the fans too. It’s a long standing “tradition” of the fans to yell out “puto”, a homophobic slur, if you put it that way, that has been frown upon for years.
The persistence of the Mexican fans to do their chant caused the game to be delayed, until the crowd calmed down. A true display of uncall-for behavior erupted when fans started throwing bottles and other trash at everyone on the field. It can be argued that it further damaged Mexico’s confidence to turn the game around.
With another history making USMNT-Mexico match in the books, what other moments stood out in this recent episode?