The US men's national team are Concacaf Nations League champions, riding a game-winning penalty kick from Christian Pulisic and a mammoth late penalty-kick save from substitute goalkeeper Ethan Horvath to a 3-2 victory over Mexico in a wild final between the sides at Empower Field at Mile High on Sunday.
The high-octane, chaotic contest saw the Yanks come from behind to score huge equalizers twice after going down 1-0 and 2-1 to force extra time, then get the eventual match-winner from Pulisic on a hotly contested penalty kick. Horvath provided the final flourish on the theatrics with a game-saving denial of Mexico captain Andrés Guardado from the spot after a handball call gave El Tri a chance to level the contest and force penalty kicks.
The match got off to a disastrous start for the US, as Mexico jumped on top through Jesús Manuel Corona just two minutes into the contest after a giveaway at the back from Mark McKenzie set him in on goal. Corona made no mistake with the finish, slotting it home past starting US goalkeeper Zack Steffen to give El Tri a stunning 1-0 lead.
Mexico thought they had bagged what could have been a back-breaking second goal in the 24th minute off a set piece that was headed home from point-blank range by Hector Moreno, only to see the tally waved off on Video Review, as Moreno was deemed just offside. That set the stage for Reyna's huge equalizer in the 27th minute that saw the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder cash home his third international goal. The chance was created by a corner kick from Pulisic, which was initially headed off the post by Weston McKennie before falling in front of Reyna, who pounced on the rebound and leveled the contest.
The Yanks narrowly dodged another concession just before the halftime break, when Mexico's Chucky Lozano ran onto a ball over the top of the US backline and found himself with a breakaway opportunity against Steffen. The Manchester City backstop had to make a crucial reaction save to preserve the 1-1 deadlock heading into the break.
The breakneck pace continued into the second half, with the US firing a pair of warning shots after the hour mark that saw McKennie denied twice by highlight-reel diving saves from Guillermo Ochoa. It was Mexico that would find the go-ahead tally, however, as Diego Lainez struck for El Tri's second in the 79th minute just after entering as a substitute. The 20-year-old Real Betis attacker slotted home a clinical finish past Horvath, who had came on after Steffen had to exit the match with an apparent leg injury.
The US struck back again, though, as McKennie got another huge leveler, finally getting the better of Ochoa with yet another header off a corner kick that just squeaked into the goal.
Mexico had the best look before the full-time whistle, with Lozano unleashing a laser shot from distance that looked bound for goal, but Horvath came through with a diving denial of his own to maintain the deadlock in dramatic fashion, sending the match to extra time.
After a scoreless first period of extra time, Pulisic won the decisive penalty in the 110th minute after going down in the box while being challenged by two Mexico defenders. Referee John Pitti initially didn't award the spot kick, but eventually did so after Video Review following a lengthy delay that also saw Mexico coach Tata Martino issued a red card. Pulisic then stepped to the spot and rifled a clinical penalty into the top corner, giving the Yanks the 3-2 lead and sending the US fans in attendance into a frenzy.
The jubilation would be turned on its head, as McKenzie was called for a handball in his own box, again after a lengthy Video Review, sending Guardado to the spot for a look at a leveler that would have sent the match to a penalty kick shootout. But Horvath came through with another highlight-reel sprawling denial, allowing the Yanks to see out the 3-2 final and take home the first-ever Concacaf Nations League trophy.
- THE BIG PICTURE: It can't be overstated how huge a victory this is for a program that needed a signature moment as this generation of young talent carves out the future of the team under Gregg Berhalter. They have one now, and they couldn't have done it in much more entertaining fashion, as this match had a little bit of everything even before the absolute bedlam at the end. This was one for the books any way you cut it, and the Yanks' players deserve all the credit for digging deep to come back with both equalizers to set the stage for the extra-time winner.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: If Guardado converts this last-gasp PK, this match goes to penalty kicks, which could have wasted the late heroics. Horvath made sure that didn't happen.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Ethan Horvath. To be thrust into a game of this intensity as an emergency sub is difficult enough, but to then have to make the saves that the 25-year-old backstop did is next level, punctuated at the end with what will undoubtedly go down as one of the biggest saves in the history of the program.
- USA: Wednesday, June 9 vs. Costa Rica | 7 pm ET (ESPN2, Unimas , TUDN) | International Friendly