DENVER, Colo. – USA. Mexico. Concacaf Nations League Final. It all went down on Sunday night at Mile High Stadium. Just when you thought this rivalry. Ultimately, Ethan Horvath and Christian Pulisic penalty heroics in extra time would decide the game.
Christian Pulisic Penalty Wins Nations League for USMNT in Extra Time
As expected, the game began with chaos. Mexico came out on the front foot. A minute in, Mexico were pressing in the final third. Mark McKenzie turned the ball over to Jesús Corona, who ran on goal and scored! He blasted the ball right by the head of goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
El Tri fed off the energy of the crowd and the lead, pressing the USMNT and finding space in transition. The game appeared to be over on 24 minutes. Off a poor defensive sequence, Mexico won a corner. On a recycled ball, Héctor Moreno found space right in front of goal to score with a header. VAR had John Pitti visit the monitor. The goal was called off with Moreno offside by about a foot.
The USMNT took that stroke of luck and responded just three minutes later. Weston McKennie won the ball in the air off a corner. The ball bounced off the post and right to Giovanni Reyna for a tap in from three yards out.
The half ended 1-1 with Steffen making a great save on a breakaway by Hirving Chucky Lozano. Steffen positioned himself well to cut down the angle and make the save with his left hand.
It took just four minutes into the second half for things to boil over. Kellyn Acosta was called for a foul at midfield, prompting a shoving match that almost every field player got involved in.
Both teams tightened up after that with neither side able to dominate offensively for long stretches. Josh Sargent had the first great look at goal in the 62nd minute. Playing direct, McKennie threaded a shot to the bottom corner. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made the save but left the rebound. Sargent got to it first but couldn’t keep it from going over the bar.
Berhalter was forced to make an unplanned substitution on 69 minutes. Steffen went down with an apparent knee injury, without contact. The training staff visited with him for several minutes before he was subbed off for Ethan Horvath.
Moments later, Ochoa made a great diving save on a McKennie header on a corner. It was his best save of the night up to that point.
The match swung on a pendulum in the 79th minute. First Diego Lainez scored, cutting inside on Tim Ream and beating Horvath at the near post. Lozano had the assist, drawing the defense towards him on the dribble before he passed.
Three minutes later, McKennie answered. He delivered a powerful header on a corner from a good angle. Ochoa was able to get the ball but it deflected into the side netting, making it 2-2.
Horvath was tested several times in the final minutes, including a great save on Lainez. Herrera fouled the keeper who slid for the ball, earning a yellow card and prompting another shoving match between several players from both teams.
The match was suspended in stoppage time due to discriminatory chants from the crowd, but Mexico players imploring the crowd to stop. The 90 minutes ended tied at 2-2, prompting extra time.
There was only one team in it in extra time. The Yanks looked out of gas, or they were playing for extra time. Lozano and Lainez provided the creativity for El Tri but couldn’t manage the final product. Herrera had a nasty studs up tackle on McKenzie that was just ruled a foul, but could have been carded.
The USMNT played direct in the second half of extra time. All they needed was one chance and they got it. Christian Pulisic got into the box chasing down a ball and was sandwiched by two Mexico defenders. After VAR got involved, the play was ruled a penalty. The Champions League winner blasted it into the top corner past Ochoa making it 3-2.
Just when you thought that would win it, the game turned again. Mexico was awarded a penalty after the 120th minute after VAR was consulted, ruling McKenzie handed the ball in the box, after it was headed down from close range. Andres Guardado took the spot kick but substitute Horvath made the save with his arm, diving to his right. The penalty wasn’t well placed and the keeper did well to get to it and direct it away from goal.
The match ended 3-2 with the United States as 2021 Concacaf Nations League champions with the Christian Pulisic penalty winning the match.
— Last Word on Soccer (@LastWordSC) June 7, 2021
— Last Word on Soccer (@LastWordSC) June 7, 2021
Three Key Takeaways:
Horvath answers the call: Horvath made a case to be the first team goalkeeper. After giving up the go ahead goal, he steadied things at the back through extra time and ultimately won the match on the late penalty.
Christ Pulisic penalty, he has his USMNT moment: What a few weeks Pulisic has had. Many argued over his American Soccer legend status after winning Champions League. Scoring against Mexico to win a trophy has finally given him a signature international moment.
USA Mexico Instant Classic: This was the most insane USA-Mexico game of all time. Fight me.
Photo Credit: John A. Babiak @Photog_JohnB