In one of the wildest games of soccer in recent memory, the United States topped Mexico to win the first-ever Concacaf Nations league trophy. It was a match that’s impossible to accurately recap. It was a match that was so unbelievably wild that it blurred the lines between cup final and Concacaf meme. This game truly had everything.
The drama started early in Denver. Just 62 seconds into the match, defender Mark McKenzie gave the ball away with an ill-advised pass under pressure. Instead of clearing the ball out of danger, he attempted to play it short but gave it straight to Jesús Manuel Corona. The attacker took two touches before blasting a shot over a helpless Zach Steffen. It was another nightmare start in a final for the U.S.
It almost got worse for the Yanks. Héctor Moreno found the back of the net with a 24th minute header to give El Tri a 2-0 lead, before Video Assistant Referee pulled the goal back for offside. After being thoroughly outplayed for the opening 25 minutes, the Americans pulled one back against the run of play. 18-year-old Giovani Reyna was first to react after Weston McKennie headed a corner kick off the post, and beat everyone to the follow-up to burry the equalizer.
Just before the break, Chucky Lozano got behind the Americans’ backline to go one-versus-one with goalkeeper Zach Steffen. The Manchester City ‘keeper was quick to react, though, denying Mexico a second goal and preserving momentum heading into the half.
If the first half was sloppy for the Yanks, the second half was significantly improved. After the intermission, they tested ‘keeper Guillermo Ochoa twice through McKennie, forcing an exceptional reaction save off a corner kick. However, the Mexicans broke the deadlock. Substitute Diego Lainez, on as a late substitute, smashed a low drive to the near post past Ethan Horvath. The United States reserve goalkeeper entered the match as a substitute after Steffen was forced to exit with what looked like a knee injury.
Again, though, the Yanks came roaring back. Weston McKennie rose above the defense to power home a header off a corner kick, clawing them back into the match. Horvath had to make a pair of spectacular saves in the dying minutes to keep the score level, but the with the two sides deadlocked, the match went to extra time.
Christian Pulisic went down in the box after contact from a pair of Mexican defenders. After VAR review, a penalty was awarded, and the Chelsea man smashed his spot kick confidently into the top corner to give the Americans the lead. Wild celebrations ensued following the goal in the corner under a shower of projectiles from the Mexican fan, including a bottle that struck Reyna in the head and required medical attention.
The real drama came just after, though. Following a Mexican set piece, VAR ruled that the ball had struck McKenzie in the hand, and after a lengthy review that included a red card for Tata Martino, referee John Pitti emphatically awarded a penalty kick.
Enter Ethan Horvath. Facing veteran Andrés Guardado, the young netminder came up huge, diving to his right to save the penalty and preserve the U.S. lead.
The final few matches played out on par with the rest of this fever dream, with scuffles, pitch invasions, projectiles thrown, and 11 minutes of stoppage time. But when at the final whistle, the United States were victorious, taking home the first-ever Concacaf Nations League trophy.
This recap doesn’t do the match justice. These tweets add more context.
Man of the Match – Ethan Horvath
The Club Brugge goalkeeper entered the match in difficult circumstances and immediately made an impact. Called into action quickly, he made four saves in his 51 minute shift, including a crucial penalty stop to secure the victory and cement his status in U.S. soccer lore.
United States: Steffen (Horvath 69′); McKenzie, Brooks, Ream (Adams 82′); Yedlin (Cannon 105+2′), McKennie, Acosta, Dest (Weah 60′); Reyna (Lletget 82′), Sargent (Siebatcheu 68′), Pulisic
Mexico: Ochoa; Araújo, Álvarez (Pineda 107′), Moreno (Salcedo 100′); Gallardo, C. Rodríguez, Herrera (Guardado 100′), L. Rodríguez (Romo 66′); Antuna (Lainez 78′), Lozano, Corona (Martín 66′)
Shots: USA 14 – 21 MEX
Shots on goal: USA 7 – 7 MEX
Expected goals: USA 2.43 – 2.15 MEX
Goals: USA 3 – 2 MEX
Possession: USA 43% – 57% MEX
Fouls: USA 18 – 13 MEX
Yellow cards: USA 5 – 3 MEX
Red cards: USA 0 – 0 MEX