Brace yourselves, it’s time to talk about international soccer.
Last Sunday, June 6, the United States men’s soccer team won the first ever CONCACAF Nations League title in a bizarre, yet thrilling 3-2 result over archrival Mexico in extra time.
Captain Christian Pulisic, 22 and fresh off winning the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea, delivered the game-winning goal with a well-placed penalty into the top right corner past Guillermo Ochoa in the 114th minute of 120. Well, it was actually 130 minutes because a USAMexico game would be nothing if there weren’t any on-field shenanigans.
Backup goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, who came on in the 69th after starter Zack Steffen went down injured, parried Andres Guardado’s penalty in the 120th to save the US.
It was the first time in a final that the US had beaten Mexico since the 2007 Gold Cup. The Americans lined up with the youngest team in USMNT history at an average age of 24 years, 206 days old. Thirteen of the 23 players suited up for the USA in the tournament were younger than 23. The goalscorers Weston McKennie (22), Gio Reyna (18) and Pulisic were part of that demographic. It’s also worth noting that 18 of those 23 play in Europe, which is touted as the best continent to play at the club level.
This needs some more context, though.
In 2017, when the USMNT lost to Trinidad and Tobago and missed out on the 2018 World Cup, the average age of the squad was 25 years old with a median age of 27. Only four of the 11 that started against Trinidad in October 2017 had European club ties.
Since that 2017 failure, I have kept up with the USMNT from a distance and last night I wanted to watch only because I wanted to see what this team would do in a final against rival Mexico.
When Mexico scored just 67 seconds into the match, I thought, “Here we go again,” and almost turned the game off. Then, Reyna finished off a rebound on a corner kick in the 27th minute to level the game and I kept the match on.
Mexico took the lead again in the 79th minute before McKennie, a Texas boy, leveled the game three minutes later with a header on one of the best corner kicks I’ve seen in recent memory.
“Oh my god, they’ve found themselves,” I thought to myself as I started screaming from my couch. No fussing about missed calls by the ref or unfortunate bounces; the team just had a locked-in mentality and rallied to do their jobs, albeit, there’s still work to do before the Gold Cup in July and World Cup qualifiers after that.
Kate Abdo, the studio host for CBS Sports’ coverage of the Nations League, brought up the fact that these guys have to be able to respond when things get “CONCACAFy.” Former USMNT stars Oguchi Onyewu and Clint Dempsey, who combined for 210 international appearances, agreed.
For those who don’t know, CONCACAF is, well, horrid.
When it comes to officiating, think of the PAC-12 refs and the blunders they’ve made over the years. That’s how CONCACAF refs are; a good ref in this confederation is utterly rare and not getting a call should not come as a surprise for players or fans.
Regardless, this squad has renewed fandom from myself and many of my soccer-loving friends who had almost given up on the team and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter.