A late penalty from Christian Pulisic fired the United States to victory over Mexico in the first ever CONCACAF Nations League final.
The two fierce rivals met at the home of the Colorado Rapids, Empower Field, and put on an enthralling show which had everything from penalty drama, VAR chaos, streakers and fans throwing objects on to the pitch.
The tone of the match was set early on as Jesus Corona put Mexico ahead after just 63 seconds, pouncing on a sloppy pass from Mark McKenzie to slot home easily, and it was almost 2-0 soon after as Hector Moreno’s header was ruled out for offside.
Sensing they were in trouble, the US stepped their game up after that near-miss and Gio Reyna bagged his third international goal when Weston McKennie’s header rebounded off the post and landed right at the Dortmund man’s feet, allowing him to follow in the footsteps of his father Claudio, who netted against Mexico in a 4-0 win back in 1995.
Optimism appeared to fade after the break when goalkeeper Zach Steffen was forced off through injury. On came Brugge’s Ethan Horvath, but the 25-year-old could not stop Diego Lainez from finding the back of the net and putting Mexico back in the driver’s seat with ten minutes to go.
Just two minutes later, McKennie headed his side back level. The Juventus man had been dominant from corners all game long and finally got his reward as he thundered an effort past Guillermo Ochoa to send the game to extra-time…after a three-minute pause in response to some discriminatory chants from the stands.
Fast-forward to the 108th minute and VAR came to the US’ aid once again. Pulisic went down in the area and was not immediately awarded a penalty, only for the video official to overrule the decision. Mexico boss, Tata Martino, was shown a red card for handling an official in protest.
Pulisic thundered his effort home, but the chaos was not over just yet as deep into injury time, VAR caught McKennie handling the ball in the box and awarded Mexico a penalty of their own, but Horvath was ready to save the day as his strong hand kept out Andres Guardado’s effort to ensure Gregg Berhalter’s side went on to win the trophy.
“It’s just the perfect way to end the year, honestly,” Pulisic told CBS after the game. “I’m so proud. I’m so proud of this group, and we needed everyone today and it was a phenomenal performance.
“We’re so proud and we still have a long way to go but we’re happy with this.”
For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!