The CONCACAF Nations League isn’t really supposed to be anything. It’s something of a cheap mockery of Europe’s Nations League, which was really only conjured to get rid of meaningless friendlies in years between major competitions. So, even that’s not really a thing. The CONCACAF version is basically a copy of a copy.
But the key part of the CONCACAF Nations League is the “CONCACAF” in the title, which means it has every potential of throwing up something truly bonkers, nonsensical, and will leave anyone who watched it needing a cigarette and lamenting the choices they’ve made. Put Mexico and the U.S. on the field together, and even the weak motivation of the first-ever CONCACAF Nations League will become some combination of the World Cup, Holy Grail, and actual salvation.
To try and sum up all that took place in the 130 minutes or so (with injury time, and it may have been much more than that) in the final between the two blood rivals, the U.S. won 3-2, is akin to asking Odysseus how was the trip home. Let me put it this way, after it was over I put on “Infinity War” to calm down. It’s probably just easiest to list out all the happenings and see if we can piece it together afterward.
- The match opened with a Mexico goal in the first minute, thanks to Mark McKenzie’s error, foreshadowing McKenzie turning into some sort of invertebrate any time the ball came near him.
- There were three VAR reviews, one which rightly canceled out a Mexico goal and two utterly ridiculous penalty decisions (CONCACAF refereeing will not be stopped by a pandemic, nor by any future interplanetary war).
- The game was stopped in second-half-injury time due to homophobic chanting from the Mexico fans, the second straight game that has happened.
- The Mexican fans also nailed one U.S. and one Mexican player with projectiles thrown from the stands, cementing their place as some of the biggest jackasses on the sporting scene.
- The U.S. lost its goalkeeper, Zach Steffen, midway through the second half, and replaced him with Ethan Horvath, who has played in four games combined with his club in the past two seasons. Horvath would then go on to make a couple of great saves, stymying Mexico’s VAR-awarded farce of a penalty in injury time in extra time.
- Oh, that penalty was taken by Mexico’s most experienced player, Andrés Guardado, and was decidedly dogshit.
- There was some moron who ran onto the field from the crowd.
- Also, another contender for the McArthur fellowship stage-dived off the CBS set.
- The U.S. came back from being a goal down… twice, and won in extra time thanks to Christian Pulisic, who’d honestly been rather anonymous throughout most of the match until converting the U.S.’s VAR-given farce of a penalty. Oh, and he did that after Mexico’s players spent the length of the VAR review trying to chew up the spot on the turn where Pulisic’s plant-foot would go with their cleats.
- Mexico’s manager, Tata Martino, was sent off during the VAR review that resulted in the U.S.’s penalty kick for either trying to influence the ref while he was reviewing the replay or offering him a beer after the game. It’s not really clear.
- This being CONCACAF, there were baffling refereeing decisions all around as Hector Herrera should have received a red card for a heinous tackle on Tim Weah in extra time that at the very minimum should have been his second yellow. But McKenzie also should have been sent off for… well, just being a general clod.
- With all the shenanigans and delays, I’ve gone back and reviewed the commentary and it turns out the clock actually ran for 146 minutes with injury time.
Everything I’ve listed above might, at best, be three-quarters of everything that went on in the game. It was a singular occasion, though one that no one would volunteer to repeat.
As for an overall verdict about the USMNT, that might take a longer view. They didn’t play particularly well, and something about pulling on the U.S. shirt causes players who play for some of the biggest clubs in the world and have played in some of the biggest matches in the world to completely forget how to pass the ball or take a decent touch. The U.S. was, for most of the match, sloppy and disjointed. Mexico wasn’t much better, to be honest, which led to pretty much a car crash of a match as two malfunctioning teams just hurled themselves at each other.
But the U.S. showed guts, coming from behind twice, finding the nerve to find the winner, and withstanding (barely) Mexico’s fightback and wading through their pettiness and antics. And as Sergeant Hartman told you once upon a time, sometimes guts is enough. When World Cup qualifying begins in the fall, there will be matches where the U.S. won’t play well (it’s fair to ask at this point if there will ever be a match when they actually do, but we’ll get to that later), and will face weird conditions and hostile crowds and inexplicable and unconscionable reffing decisions. And it will be even more turned up given how packed in the schedule will be. This kind of resolve to just find a way will be very handy indeed.