United States wins inaugural CONCACAF Nations League

The United States came back to beat Mexico 3-2, winning against El Tri in a final for the first time in fourteen years.

Christian+Pulisic+and+the+rest+of+the+USMNT+lift+the+CONCACAF+Nations+League+trophy.+

Isaiah J. Downing

Christian Pulisic and the rest of the USMNT lift the CONCACAF Nations League trophy.

 

The final of the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League had everything that you could think of when you think of  a “brilliant football match”. The game became an instant classic and has wiped away most of the fears people had about the USMNT’s potential following a drab 1-0 win in the semifinal against Honduras (the lone goal scored in the 89th minute by Jordan Siebatcheu, who declared for the US over France and made his debut in March). 

 The US’s opponent would be their longtime rivals Mexico, who needed a penalty shootout to defeat a spirited Costa Rica in the other semi. The mood before the match was one of skepticism; the US looked poor against Honduras and Gregg Berhalter’s selections of Tim Ream and Kellyn Acosta over Antonee Robinson and Yunus Musah for the final were suspect. 

 And it started poorly, as Mark McKenzie gave the ball away to Jesus “Tecatito” Corona in the 1st minute. All the Porto winger had to do was roof a finish past Zack Steffen, and El Tri were up 1-0 a minute in. The worst possible start for the US and the best for Mexico. 

 After that Mexico continued to be the better side, and in the 22nd minute Hector Herrera (who should’ve been sent off later in the match) whipped a beautiful cross in, where an unmarked Hector Moreno nodded home. However, Moreno was ruled offside by VAR, and the US was saved. 5 minutes later, a US corner saw Weston McKennie’s header glance off the post and right to Giovanni Reyna, who tapped home an equalizer past Memo Ochoa and knotting the game up at 1. 

 The game went into halftime at 1-1, a score that didn’t reflect Mexico’s domination in the first half (a pivotal moment being a Zack Steffen save on a Chucky Lozano breakaway). Steffen was arguably the US’s man of the match… until he got injured. On came Ethan Horvath, and this period coincided with US pressure, but the substitution of Diego Lainez worked wonders for El Tri; he slotted past Horvath in the 76th to reinstate Mexico’s lead.

 Yet again, the US would respond in turn. The Stars and Stripes looked fantastic on set pieces all game, and an 81st minute Reyna corner found the head of Weston McKennie, who emphatically dispatched the ball into the back of the net. 2-2. Extra time would come, but not without drama. Horvath made some brilliant saved to keep the US level going into extra time, but not before he was kicked in the chest by Hector Herrera, who received a yellow card. 

 ET was a tale of penalties, one brilliant and one awful. The brilliant one just happened to be taken by Captain America himself. Christian Pulisic, wearing the captain’s armband, was brought down in the box by Carlos Salcedo, and VAR gave the penalty; the Chelsea winger coolly slotted the ball into the top right corner and shushed the Mexican fans (which we’ll get to later).

 However, Mexico would get their own penalty thanks to VAR, as it judged that Mark McKenzie had handled the ball inside the box. Captain Andres Guardado stepped up to take the penalty, and while his runup was confident, his shot was not, as he tamely hit it to the left of Ethan Horvath, who pushed it away and instantly became an American hero (besides the Lainez goal, he was impressive all night). 

 Timewasting ensued before the referee blew his final whistle, and the US lifted the trophy in front of their own fans, beating Mexico in a final for the first time since 2007 with a fantastic performance. 

 This will go down as the final that Gregg somehow got right. The decision to start Acosta, who went the full 120+ minutes and looked quite good, was a smart one. The team played gritty, tough, and never gave up with the embodiment being Weston McKennie, who got stuck in time after time and did a perfect job of winding up the opposition. 

 However, the game will be marred by the actions of Mexican fans, whose homophobic chants caused the game to be paused just before extra time. It was the second time in two games that these chants occurred, and homophobia has no place in the game; just shameful from the fans. They also threw bottles onto the field, especially after Pulisic’s goal, and a full bottle of Coca-Cola hit Gio Reyna in the temple, possibly concussing him. 

 The behavior from a subset of El Tri fans was awful, and the fact that their homophobic chants are so common is honestly disgraceful. Those fans need to take a look in the mirror and question their actions; what they did has no place in the game.

 But don’t let it take away from the wonderful game the US played and the resolve they showed to pull through and win. This is a team that can do more, but they need to keep up this level of performance, especially in World Cup qualifying. The sky is the limit, and on Sunday the USMNT showed us what they can do.