But where exactly does the USMNT’s 3-2 win in the inaugural regional competition land? That’s a question the Extratime crew kicked around while still decompressing from the back-and-forth classic, quickly deducing it’s near the top.
Co-host Matt Doyle said the clash in Denver is behind the USMNT’s 2-0 win over Mexico at the 2002 World Cup. That was a Round of 16 match that preceded their controversial quarterfinal loss against Germany, and there’s no bigger stage than a World Cup.
“I think it’s the second tier,” Doyle said. “The first tier all by itself is still the World Cup game because of the stakes. There’s nothing like a World Cup game. Then that second tier is this game and I think the 2011 Gold Cup final, 2015 Concacaf Cup, which was an incredible game.
“Then there were a couple of meetings in the 90s as well, just in terms of craziness and openness. World Cup qualifiers tend not to be as open as this game was, which is not to say this game was super open and there were chances galore.”
Assessing the pecking order, perhaps the biggest nod in the CNL Final’s favor is the quantity of cult-classic moments. People will always remember Christian Pulisic’s penalty kick game-winner or Ethan Horvath’s PK stop – both in extra time – but the unforgettable moments extend way beyond the highlights.
“It’s unquestionably a classic, and I do think it is one that we will sit and talk about and reference for at least the next decade,” Doyle said. “A dude ran onto the field. We had somebody invade the field – the tackle on him was absolutely amazing – and it’s not even in the top 15 of crazy stuff that happened in the game.”
Co-host David Gass referenced another, with Mexico defender Nestor Araujo and USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter nearly colliding when going for a loose ball that resulted in a throw-in. Had they actually clashed? Pandemonium surely would have ensued.
“I forgot until five minutes before we started recording this that Araujo and Gregg Berhalter physically got, not into an altercation, but Araujo’s coming off the field, running after a ball, Gregg tries to get it to play it back quickly,” Gass said. “[It] would have been the biggest moment – if you remember it happened with Pep [Guardiola] and [Cristiano] Ronaldo one time and it’s all anyone talked about for three weeks, and I forgot it happened because so much else went on after it.”
Wherever you land in the debate, there’s no denying the CNL Final will remain at the forefront of USMNT lore for years to come. And if you’re looking for more reminiscing, check out the latest Extratime episode here.