The first-ever Concacaf Nations League final was an instant classic. It was filled with moments of individual brilliance, perfect set pieces, impactful substitutions, team fights, and VAR decisions. The 120-minute spectacle that is the USA vs Mexico with a trophy on the line did not disappoint in the slightest. In the end, the USMNT beat Mexico 3-2 and lifted the first-ever Concacaf Nations League trophy!
The USMNT beat Mexico; lift Nations League Trophy
Ahead of the match, the US came out in a changed formation. Instead of the 4-3-3 that they had been running in matches past, they started in a 3-4-3. This should allow the US to have a more dynamic attack but can leave the center backs on islands if they are pressed. Mexico also made changes to their lineup, but not their formation. Mexico made a lot of changes to their lineup ahead of their clash with their main rivals. While the USMNT was able to eventually win, the match started off at a frantic pace.
The match started frantically. Two minutes in and Mexico found itself a gift of a goal. McKenzie tried to pass out of pressure in his own box and Corona took the ball and rocketed a shot past Steffen for the opening goal. Two Minutes later the USA was able to find an attacking sequence as well. Sargent was played in on goal, but he was not able to get much on the shot which was saved. The match was not as frantic after the first five minutes but the intensity stayed high.
A crucial one-goal swing
John Brooks picked up a yellow card for a strong challenge just 10 minutes in, but it was at this point the US started to get comfortable in their shape. For the next 10 minutes, the USA had some good attacking sequences but they couldn’t put any in the back of the net, which allowed Mexico to continue to dominate the match. In the 24th minute, it looked like Mexico found their second off of a smartly worked short corner kick. However, a VAR review showed that Moreno was offside when he headed the ball home. The US dodged a bullet and immediately looked to get back in the game.
In their next attacking sequence, the US won a corner. Pulisic put a perfect ball right at the six-yard box that found McKennie’s head. The header rang off the post and bounced right back to Reyna’s feet. He put the chance home and helped the US tie the match! This sequence really shocked Mexico who thought they were 2-0 up, and all of a sudden they lost their lead. As the half went on, Mexico pushed to get that lead back.
The USA bent but didn’t break
The final 20 minutes of the first half produced a lot of back and forth, but it was clear that Mexico looked the better team in the flow of play. They were able to exploit the USA’s three-man backline with their direct play. In the 43rd minute, Mexico had another dangerous attack. A ball was put over the backline to Lozano who tried to put the ball past Steffen. Steffen made himself big and stopped the shot to keep the USA tied. The match went to halftime 1-1. If you thought this half was crazy wait till you see how the match progressed in the second half.
The second half showed that the USMNT wanted to switch back to a 4-3-3 formation to solidify the backline. It worked as Mexico was no longer able to draw out the US’s center backs and exploit the open space. As the second half was 20 minutes in the USA made a substitution due to injury that would end up making a huge difference in the match. In the 69th minute, starting goalkeeper Steffen had to come out of the match because of a knee injury. This brought on the substitute Horvath to see the rest of the match out. He would be severely tested in his first 10 minutes on the pitch.
Mexico made an impact sub of their own bringing on Lainez to help find a crucial goal. One minute after coming on he did just that. He found space on the right-wing, turned USMNT defender Ream inside out, and fired a quick shot that surprised Horvath and ended up in the back of the net. With 10 minutes left in the match, Mexico was on the front foot, but this USMNT did not back down one bit.
Another quick response to tie the match
In the 81st minute the USA pushed to find another equalizer yet again. They won a corner after some nice attacking play. Reyna hit a beautiful ball to the back post. McKennie rose up to meet it and snuck it past the Mexican keeper Ochoa to tie the match just two minutes after conceding. This set up an intense final nine minutes of the second half, which was filled with chippy play from the two rivals who clearly dislike one another.
30 more minutes were needed
As the match entered the final moments ahead of extra time Mexico found another juicy opportunity. Lozano found space outside the US’s 18 to shoot. He put a wicked shot on frame, that could have been the winning shot. Horvath sprung to palm it away. At this moment it was clear the substitute keeper was gaining confidence. Which was needed as the game went to 30 minutes of extra time after a thrilling and testy 90+ minutes of play.
Captain America makes an impact
The match resumed in the first 15 minute period of extra time. For the first 13 of those minutes, it was clear both teams had heavy legs. They still wanted to give their all for their country and to stick it to their rivals. In the 108th minute, the USMNT sprung a counterattack that would produce a huge moment of drama.
Some good interplay from substitutes Siebatcheu, Weah, and Cannon moved the ball into Mexico’s box. Cannon found the run of Pulisic who was very direct. He ran at two Mexican defenders and was tripped up in the box. At first glance, it looked as if the defender won the ball and then his momentum carried into Pulisic. However, VAR gave an even closer look at a crucial time.
After a lengthy review, the referee gave a penalty to the United States. Pulisic stepped up and roofed the ball to the upper right-hand corner of the net! The USA lead for the first time in the match right before halftime in extra time.
Pulisic was elated he took his shirt off and ran toward the Mexican fans putting his finger to his mouth to silence them. As debris rained down on the celebrating USA players, they knew they still had work to do!
HORVATH SAYS NO
The match went on to the last 15 of the 120 and both sides showed their fatigue. With half-chances coming every so often, it looked as if the USMNT was going to hold on to beat Mexico. That thought quickly drifted away quickly with only two minutes left in extra time.
Mexico took a quick corner that was sent into the box. USMNT McKenzie looked to have dealt with the cross, but the referee wanted to take a closer look to see if it hit his hand. After a longer review than the one in the first half of extra time, VAR determined that it was played with a hand and therefore a penalty was awarded to Mexico.
Late substitute and Mexico captain Guardado stepped to the spot to take the penalty. USMNT players were jawing with him, the referee, and other players. After they were cleared Guardado made his long run to hit the ball. In the end, it was a poorly taken penalty that was short of the desired bottom left corner of the goal. Even though it was not placed well there was still work to do. Horvath guessed the correct side to dive to stretched his arm and made contact with the ball enough to send it away from the goal. Mexico was stunned. The USA still had to defend for seven more minutes of added time, but eventually, the final whistle blew!
The USMNT beat Mexico! The final whistle finally blew after what added up to be 144 minutes and 40 seconds. This is an instant classic of a match. It will be remembered forever, and could just be the catalyst for the USMNT as they head forward toward other tournaments including World Cup Qualifying!
USMNT beat Mexico and carry this achievement into 2022
Looking ahead this group of USMNT will likely not play again together in a meaningful game until this falls beginning of 2022 World Cup Qualifying. The USA will likely call a different squad up for next month’s Gold Cup tournament to give these players a rest.
This type of win creates a huge bonding moment that the USMNT desperately needed. This young group is going to be called upon to win other big games of consequence in the future heading toward the upcoming 2022 World Cup and the 2026 World Cup which will be partially played in the United States.
Consequently, this huge win could be the jumping off point for the USA; the beginning of what will be a very successful team for years to come!
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Mandatory Credit: UsSoccer.com