USMNT Mexico Final is an emotional resurgence
It’s been a long couple of years. The fateful October 2017 night in Trinidad stood out when the U.S. men’s national team was officially eliminated from the World Cup for the first time since we struggled to create a competitive national team, but there were many other lows.
Some of them came against Mexico, from the Gold Cup final two summers ago to one of the worst collective USMNT performances ever, a few months later.
The losses sting more because it was Mexico because it was the USMNT’s main rival in the region. Games against El Tri are hard to win and mean more. Even if they don’t mean anything.
That was pretty much the case at the final of the CONCACAF Nations League. What exactly was at stake in this tournament? World Cup qualification and Gold Cup placement that both the USMNT and Mexico almost certainly would have won. It was difficult to imagine how the competition would go far beyond a further stratification of the haves and the haves in North and Central America and the Caribbean. In addition, thanks to the pandemic, this first edition reached back to autumn 2019.
As fierce as the rivalry is, it would be excused if you struggle to muster up enthusiasm. Apart from the fact that the USMNT’s 3-2 comeback win over Mexico in extra time was a lot more fun and convincing and bat-like than it rightly should have been. And what is even more important: Not only football fans, but sports fans in general have been waiting a long time for such exhalations.
The pandemic has messed up every sports league around the world – not that it was really that important in its context – and major events have either been postponed, canceled outright, or held in a zombified manner. Fans were also not allowed in stadiums around the world, which took away the spectacle and energy that the dire reality of the situation had not yet eradicated.
With fans slowly packing stadiums again, some of the returns were worrying, but by and large they were well received. That fits in nicely with Sunday’s melting pot, with some idiots acting dangerously, but most of them gasping up a game that was exciting enough in itself.
Everyone was tweet about that. Everyone praised it. Everyone got angry about it.
Mexico score a minute in the game? Same old USMNT.
Weston McKennie leveling late in regular time? That is new.
Was that a punishment? that Christian Pulisic drew against Mexico? Uhhh.
Has Substitute warden Ethan Horvath Really save Mexico’s own penalty shortly afterwards? Yes!
How was Hector Herrera not shown the red card several times? Let’s not start.
The tension was heightened as always, even if it wasn’t at stake. Both nations recognized what an opportunity this was, and that is one of the few things that the Nations League could do to make it. If CONCACAF and the other governing bodies of football continue to shamelessly snag money, they might as well organize things so that their best national teams compete against each other more often.
This is how the USMNT and Mexico treated this game. In a vacuum, neither side had their first choice, but they were close. In addition, international football does not take place in a vacuum. It’s all about how your program can accommodate and file changing rosters and tactics during an already jam-packed calendar at the club level. Starting the best XI in a given game is a privilege, not an ordained right.
This is how both the teams and the fans gave weight to the game. How much weight will it carry in the future?
That is perhaps the most important question. For one night it was a big deal on people’s radar. It can become a bigger cause when it serves as a stepping stone to this generation of American male soccer players who are legitimately referred to as “golden”.
This is the first time this group – which included a Champions League winner, a Premier League winner, a Ligue 1 winner and key wheels at numerous big clubs across Europe on Sunday – came together to play on international Level to win something. Fans hope it won’t be the last as this group hopes to qualify for the 2022 World Cup before hosting the event (along with Mexico and Canada) in 2026.
In the meantime, there will be more opportunities to win trophies. This triumph over Mexico, the first in a so-called “competitive” match in nearly eight years, can become an icon in US football history if the USMNT so wishes.
Do not underestimate this wish. That made Sunday so special when there were many reasons not to be. We didn’t have to attach an import. We just decided to do it.
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