The good guys were in white, the bad guys in black, and the Rose Bowl was the scene for an old-fashioned Western between the United States and Mexico.
For 100 minutes, the white might as well’ve stood for surrender. Then, in a twist, the good guys appeared to dodge every unlikely bullet.
But only for a short time, as Paul Aguilar gave Mexico the win it deserved with a 118th minute goal.
The 3-2 in extra time score line defied pure Mexican dominance in California, as Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Oribe Peralta also scored in a thrilling CONCACAF Cup final.
Geoff Cameron and substitute Bobby Wood scored for the U.S., and Cameron was one of few players who had a game worthy of any merit.
Jurgen Klinsmann had no answers for a Mexico team playing with a caretaker boss.
There was a frenetic unease to the start, with emotions getting the best of the players in a noisy Rose Bowl.
[ WATCH: Chicharito, Cameron trade first-half goals ]
And then an early mistake from the entire left side of the U.S. defense. Matt Besler dove into the midfield, and Mexico burst through to spring a chance through the 18. Oribe Peralta fed Javier Hernandez, and Chicharito darted past an indecisive Fabian Johnson to make it 1-0.
Then the States won a free kick on the left, and Michael Bradley sent in a gorgeous ball for Cameron to head home. The Stoke man made no doubt about it with his second U.S. goal.
— CONCACAF (@CONCACAF) October 11, 2015
Playing in his advanced role, Bradley dribbled across the 18 and tried to wrong foot Moises Munoz with a left-footed shot that dragged wide of the right post.
Things got nutty in the 34th minute, when an offside Peralta slid into a prone Guzan (who had the ball). Peralta saw yellow, after a baseball-style “all talk” skirmish in the U.S. six.
Beasley’s overlapping run found a Bradley through ball, but the Houston Dynamo defender’s cross was too shallow and scooped by Munoz.
Altidore missed a golden chance to put the U.S. up as the clock struck 40, as he booted an in-tight and contested chance wide and high of the bar.
The Toronto FC forward then won a dangerous free kick and a yellow card for Hector Moreno with a spin move outside the 18 in the 44th minute. Bradley whipped in a scything kick on goal, but Munoz dove to rescue it, parrying the ball wide.
A Columbus Crew man wanted a halftime change…
Jermaine Jones playing out wide is useless. Are there no wingers on the bench #USAvMEX 🇺🇸
The second half saw Mexico nearly score within two minutes, as Guzan made a huge safe after Mexico danced through the U.S. back line yet again.
El Tri expressed themselves in the first 15 minutes of the frame, really, with Cameron, Besler and Guzan doing yeomen’s work keep the score line level.
The Yanks should’ve been down 2-1 after Chicharito butchered a chance by trying to use his back leg instead of his left. He had left Besler in the dust, but the U.S. escaped.
The U.S. got its first corner in the 67th minute, and Bradley tried to catch Munoz napping only to see the keeper slap the ball to the other side of the pitch.
The second half saw the States looking wounded at worst and winded at best. Altidore labored, as did Jones. Dempsey was a shell of himself excepting an ambitious dribble or two.
Heart-stopping stuff as the U.S. had a muddled spell of possession with about 15 minutes to play in the first 90 minutes. The Americans avoided calamity when Besler went unwhistled on a handball in the box just into stoppage time.
So we went to extra time. More of the same, and the Yanks looked beat when it came time to counter… except for Yedlin, who earned a free kick that Bradley lofted far post and right to Munoz.
Then, Peralta. The Mexican talisman did it again in the clutch, Johnny-on-the-spot to bury a chance over a beleaguered and sliding Cameron, and past Guzan.
But who the heck is Bobby Wood and what did he do with our narrative? The only-clutch U.S. striker subbed on to tie the game off a silky feed from DeAndre Yedlin, and somehow the Americans were level… and on the front foot?
Nope. Aguilar volleyed a bullet past a too-shallow Guzan, and Mexican had their trip to Russia.
Mexico: Munoz; Aguilar, Reyes, Moreno, Layun; Marquez (Rivas, 76′), Guardado (Lopez, 80′), Herrera; Peralta, Jimenez, Hernandez (Corona, 97′).
Goals: Hernandez (10′), Peralta (96′), Aguilar (118′)
United States: Guzan; Beasley, Cameron, Besler, Johnson (Evans, 111′); Beckerman, Jones, Bradley, Zardes (Yedlin, 78′); Dempsey, Altidore (Wood, 98′)
Goals: Cameron (15′), Wood (108′)