The U.S. men’s national team had its chances, but made nothing of them, before the defense finally gave way and succumbed to the relentless pressure of Mexico in the 2019 Gold Cup final on Sunday.
This is the story of a game full of missed chances very early on — missed chances that everyone in the world knew would come back to bite the USMNT in the end.
The Americans had two golden scoring chances inside the game’s first eight minutes. Jozy Altidore‘s hold-up play send Christian Pulisic into the box with one defender and the goalkeeper to beat. He was able to slide past the former, but the latter, Guillermo Ochoa, stood tall and saved Pulisic’s shot. Altidore followed up with a hopeful bicycle attempt, to no avail.
Three minutes later, Altidore had the 10-out-of-10 chance that are so few and far between in finals. After twisting away from Hector Moreno at the top of Mexico’s penalty area, Altidore had Ochoa in headlights with either side of the goal fully exposed. His left-footed shot bounced helplessly wide.
The speed with which the game turned into a classic U.S.-Mexico battle, particularly for a cup final, was jarring. Weston McKennie and Andres Guardado engaged one another in some pushing and shoving early in the first half; Luis Rodriguez booted the ball off a prone Pulisic, which prompted Altidore to sprint 40 yards across the field to confront him before being forcibly removed from the situation; McKennie squared up to Moreno after he drove a knee into Altidore’s back already face-down on the ground.
Guardado cleared off the line what looked set to become the game’s opening goal in the 50th minute. Jordan Morris rose above everyone and sent a powerful header back across the face and goal and had beaten Ochoa, but Guardado was lurking at the near post and headed the ball clear just as it began to cross the goal line.
The breakthrough was long overdue for a game as open as this one, but it was unquestionably worth the wait. Raul Jimenez set up Jonathan dos Santos with a clever backheel on the edge of the penalty area, and dos Santos’ left-footed finish was never going to be saved as he laced it toward the far post out of Zack Steffen’s reach.
Sunday’s triumph gives Mexico 11 all-time CONCACAF titles (eight during the Gold Cup era), once again four ahead of the Americans.