For a second time in two months, the U.S. men's national team and Mexico were vying for a Concacaf trophy. For a second time in two months, that matchup went to extra time. And for a second time in two months, the U.S. ultimately broke through to beat its bitter rival to a championship.
On June 6 it was the inaugural Nations League title, won by the U.S. in an extra-time thriller. Now a different cast of U.S. players has defeated a more experienced group of El Tri counterparts in Sunday's 2021 Gold Cup final, which was deadlocked at 0–0 until the 117th minute, when Miles Robinson headed in the go-ahead goal in a 1–0 triumph that continues the momentum being built as World Cup qualifying looms around the corner.
Both sides spurned numerous chances, with goalkeepers Matt Turner and Alfredo Talavera playing their part in that, but it came down to an extra-time set piece, with Kellyn Acosta's service picking out Robinson for the trophy-winning header from inside the box. The Gold Cup title is the U.S.'s seventh, one fewer than Mexico's all-time record of eight (Canada is the only other nation to win a Gold Cup title, that coming in 2000). Of the U.S.'s six games in this competition, five wound up as 1–0 results, including all three in the knockout stage (Jamaica, Qatar, Mexico).
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter made four changes to its starting lineup from the groups that started vs. Jamaica and Qatar in the previous two rounds, with Reggie Cannon, George Bello, Eryk Williamson and Zardes coming in to replace Shaq Moore, Sam Vines, Gianluca Busio and Daryl Dike.
The U.S. had a nervy moment not even 90 seconds in, with goalkeeper Turner taking a heavy touch on a back pass and then scrambling to get the ball to safety while narrowly avoiding a penalty for tripping Rogelio Funes Mori. It was reminiscent of what happened in the Nations League final, when Mexico scored in the second minute off some shoddy U.S. play in the back.
Mexico had the better of the run of play in the opening 10 minutes and had a penalty shout when Jesus "Tecatito" Corona's cross went off Bello's arm and out for a corner. The referee and VAR weren't having it, though, and Turner showed his strength on the ensuing set piece, going full-extension to his left to deny Funes Mori of a goal off a powerful header with a strong one-handed save.
Turner had a more comfortable save off another header from a corner kick in the 19th minute, when Herrera completed his near-post run by heading right to the New England Revolution and U.S. goalkeeper.
The U.S. came closest to scoring in the 26th minute off a Mexico giveaway. Sebastian Lletget pounced on the loose ball and fed Paul Arriola, who had an avenue to beat Talavera but put his shot off the outside of the post.
Turner came up with another save at the half-hour mark, with Funes Mori doing everything but finishing after volleying the ball over his and James Sands's heads, turning and getting a shot on frame, though not one with the full power and positioning as he would've liked, and not one to find space around the angle that Turner had cut off.
Funes Mori was denied by Turner again in the 38th minute, peeling off his run forward to cut back and find Chaka Rodriguez's cross, only to put his chance within diving range for the U.S. keeper.
Mexico suffered a bit of a setback when Hector Moreno was forced out with an injury, and he was replaced by Carlos Salcedo in the 44th minute. The end of the opening half concluded with chances for both teams, with Edson Alvarez putting a deflected long-range shot wide of the mark, while Arriola pushed another chance on a counter wide of the right post.
Both sides flubbed opportunities in the opening five minutes of the second half. Lletget got his feet wrong after being played through in the first minute, while Orbelin Pineda shanked his chance from the center of the box wide of the mark after doing all the hard work and evading Robinson.
Pineda missed another great chance moments later, with Rodriguez's cross meeting his near-post run, only for Pineda to make the shot more difficult than it needed to be when a straightforward header could have done the trick.
U.S. pressure had rattled Mexico's center backs on multiple occasions, and it happened again in the 69th minute, when Salcedo gave away possession for Arriola, who quickly laid it off for Hoppe. The Schalke forward's long-range shot was earmarked for goal, but Nestor Araujo was able to get his head on it to put it out of play before Talavera could be tested.
Hoppe had another chance moments later, with Robinson streaking forward from the back and picking out Arriola, who found Hoppe on the left. Alvarez's last-ditch tackle kept Hoppe from getting his shot on goal though, blocking it out for a corner.
Talavera made a sensational, point-blank save off a U.S. free kick in the 74th minute. Acosta's curling ball found Zardes in the area, and after he couldn't do much with the initial touch, Arriola had the ball fall to him on the doorstep, only for the Mexican goalkeeper to effectively save the shot with his back while cutting off the angle at the post.
A fan jumping on the field forced Mexico to stop play while possessing in the U.S. third in the 90th minute, and neither side could threaten in stoppage time, sending the match to an extra 30 minutes.
Six minutes into extra time, the U.S. had a half-chance on the counter. Substitute Nicholas Gioacchini was streaking in behind down the left channel, and it took another substitute, Busio, a bit to find him. He eventually did, but while under extreme pressure, the Caen forward just did what he could to angle something on frame, which Talavera smothered with a diving effort.
The U.S. wound up with another decent chance at the start of the second half of extra time, with Zardes curling around the left side and firing low and on frame, only for Talavera to make the stop and cover the rebound.
The breakthrough came at last in the 117th minute. After Gioacchini earned a free kick, Acosta curled in perfect service for Robinson, who headed in the go-ahead goal and gave the U.S. a lead it would not relinquish to secure another trophy at Mexico's expense.
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