The newest chapter in the battle between the powerhouses of the continent was no less than a classic.
Both teams have produced a significant amount of youthful talent that has impressed the world. However, the long history between these two football titans, which continually battle for the title of the best team on the continent, will not have to be recalled by Pulisic (USA) or Lozano (Mexico).
Tecatito Corona scored in just 62 seconds; then VAR wiped out a potential second goal for Mexico before Gio Reyna equalized the US in the first half. Late in the second half, both sides scored goals two minutes apart from each other; goals were scored by Lainez (Mexico) and McKennie(USA) to send the game into extra time. Christian Pulisic’s penalty kick, which came after a VAR review, and an Ethan Horvath Penalty Kick stop on Andres Guardado, which came after a VAR review, made the difference on an unbelievable night in Colorado.
Mexico has a better record in championship finals than the United States (6 of 7), but this one was a close fight. Both regional giants similarly advanced from the semifinals, battling to impose their way on opponents they were widely anticipated to beat more quickly. The United States defeated Honduras 1-0 courtesy of a diving header from substitute Jordan Siebatcheu in the 89th minute, while Mexico beat an understaffed Costa Rica team in penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie.
Mexico manager Gerardo Martino has demonstrated versatility in his tactics and personnel this season, blending a four-man defensive line with a three-person backline flanked by wingbacks. Regardless of the formation, Lozano remains Mexico’s most consistent attacker, while the dynamic Lainez has also proven to be the main threat in recent encounters.
The second half started much differently from the first, with both teams attempting to establish themselves in a slower, more physical, and disconnected phase of play. A defensive mistake by Barcelona’s Dest almost gave Mexico their lead in the second half; Charly Rodrigues took advantage of the error and curling in a right-footed shot from outside the box which went wide of the top right corner. After that, the game’s speed and intensity increased, and Mexico posed a threat once more, with Corona finding space down the left side and McKenzie making a vital stop to prevent the goalscorer from firing on goal.
Steffen was substituted out of the match in the second half. He was injured in a very harmless play, with the goalie pulling up after a non-contact play. Despite his best efforts, Steffen was forced to leave the game in the 68th minute and substitute with Horvath. Meanwhile, Ochoa remained imprisoned. McKennie got his head to another corner kick and guided it on goal, but the experienced goalie reacted superbly to deny him the game-winning goal.
Mexico was one move away from seizing the lead thanks to Ochoa’s saves. Lainez, who Antuna substituted at the 78th minute, got the ball on the right-wing by Lozano, blasted the ball inside the net to give the Mexicans a 2-1 lead. Their happiness was short-lived as McKennie took back the advantage and equalized the scoreline after being denied again and again by Ochoa.
In the second half of extra time, VAR came to the USA’s rescue once more. In the 108th minute of extra time, Pulisic got tackled by Salcedo, which the USMNT contested and asked for a penalty. After an initial no-foul call by the referee, the decision went into VAR, which later called for a penalty to be awarded to the USA. Pulisic took full advantage of the penalty and gave the USMNT a 3-2 lead. Martino was sent off due to the turmoil around the referee during the review, leaving Mexico without a manager for the last few minutes.
During the celebrations of the Penalty Kick scored by Pulisic, Gio Reyna and the rest of the squad sprinted to the sidelines to celebrate with the fans. Unfortunately, the opposing fans took out their rage by throwing beer cans and bleachers on the field; unluckily, Reyna got hit with a projectile and dropped down on the field.
The drama, however, did not finish there. Mexico also got awarded a late penalty for a handball, but Andres Guardado was unable to convert. The backup goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, who got substituted for the starting goalkeeper, came out as a hero after saving a late penalty kick shot by Guardado, who could not convert. This vital save helped the USMNT win the Concacaf Nations Leagues.