Pulisic penalty gives USMNT Nations League crown in instant classic vs. Mexico

Pulisic penalty gives USMNT Nations League crown in instant classic vs. Mexico

CONCACAF

Pulisic penalty gives USMNT Nations League crown in instant classic vs. Mexico

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The U.S. Men’s National Team and Mexico have had their share of classics.

Well, the first-ever Concacaf Nations League final between the two nations looks to have just become the latest.

The USMNT twice fought back from deficits and Christian Pulisic converted a penalty in extra time to defeat arch-nemesis Mexico, 3-2, in an enthralling championship game that had several dramatic twists and turns.

Pulisic scored the winner in the 114th minute of the match at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado, but the Americans still only prevailed after backup goalkeeper Ethan Horvath denied Andres Guardado on a potentially game-tying spot kick near the death.

The win gave the USMNT the inaugural Concacaf Nations League crown and the team’s first win over Mexico in a competitive game since 2013. It was also Gregg Berhalter’s first victory vs. the bitter rival in four attempts.

The Americans twice clawed their way back into the match. Giovanni Reyna scored on a rebound in the 27th minute to cancel out Jesus Corona’s opener in the first minute, and Weston McKennie’s 82nd-minute header tied things up again after substitute Diego Lainez struck three minutes earlier.

Two plays in the second half of extra time went to VAR, and the first proved decisive. Carlos Salcedo was judged to have fouled Pulisic in the penalty area, and the American attacker made no mistake on his ensuing take by firing with authority to the top right corner.

The second play that went to review determined Mark McKenzie handled the ball in the 18-yard box, but Guardado’s low effort to the left in the 120th minute was denied by Horvath’s diving stop.

Horvath entered the game in the 69th minute after starting netminder Zack Steffen was forced out with a knee injury sustained while coming out to collect a ball.

Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino’s side not only gave up leads on each side of halftime during regulation, but Mexico’s head coach was also given a red card in extra time for putting his arm around head referee John Pitti during the reviewed play that led to Pulisic’s penalty.

Sunday night may have ended on a poor note for the Mexicans, but it started in dream fashion. Jesus ‘Tecatito’ Corona scored in the opening seconds after intercepting a poor pass from Mark McKenzie and racing forward to smash a shot past Steffen.

Mexico appeared to make it 2-0 in the 25th minute off a header from Hector Moreno following a well-worked corner, but the play went to VAR and was called back for offside.

That opened the door for the Americans’ first equalizer of the game a minute later, with Reyna blasting home a rebound from in close after a McKennie header clanged off the far post on a corner kick from the right.

El Tri nearly reclaimed the lead two minutes before halftime, with Hirving ‘Chucky’ Lozano beating the USMNT back line with a well-timed run in behind. Steffen, however, came up big to parry away the ensuing shot on the 1-on-1 look.

Mexico substitute Lainez put Mexico back in front shortly after entering the match in the second half. Lainez received the ball down the right flank in the 79th minute, cut inside, and took a few dribbling touches before hitting a hard low shot to the near post that beat Horvath.

It took just three minutes for the Americans to respond, with McKennie besting Ochoa at last by nodding home at the back post on a corner kick. McKennie had another headed attempt off a set piece saved well by Ochoa earlier in the second half.

Horvath was forced into a massive, right-handed save in the 90th minute that helped force extra time after Lozano unleashed a stinging shot from distance.

The tension and wildness from regulation carried over into extra time, though it was not until the second stanza of the added half-hour that the dramatic twists reached another level. A collision in Mexico’s penalty area went to VAR, leading to Martino’s ejection for touching the match official and the USMNT’s game-winning spot kick.

Pulisic converted emphatically six minutes from the death before running to the corner to celebrate euphorically with his teammates. The celebrations and Pulisic’s silencing gesture prompted upset Mexican fans to pelt objects onto the field, hitting Reyna in the head with a cup in the process.

Guardado then had his chance to pull Mexico even and force a penalty shootout after a VAR decision ruled in his team’s favor, but Horvath came up with the match-saving stop to ensure the Americans went down in history as the first Concacaf Nations League champions.

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