Horvath denies El Tri to lead USA to Nations League title

U.S. players pile on goalie Ethan Horvath after defeating Mexico to win the Concacaf Nations League in overtime. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
U.S. players pile on goalie Ethan Horvath after defeating Mexico to win the Concacaf Nations League in overtime. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/ISI Photos/Getty Images) /
El Tri loses Nations League
Ethan Horvath entered in minute 69 and made four huge saves to help Team USA win the inaugural Concacaf Nations League (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images) /

Back-up goalie Ethan Horvath stopped an Andrés Guardado penalty kick in overtime and Team USA claimed the first-ever Concacaf Nations League trophy Sunday night in Denver. The 3-2 victory – an Instant Classic – was the first win for the Stars-and -Stripes over El Tri in an official match since Sept. 10, 2013.

Mexico scored before the 60-second mark when Jesús “Tecatito” Corona stole a weak outlet pass by Mark McKenzie and walked in alone on starting US keeper Zack Steffen, roofing it for a 1-0 lead.

Stunned by the early goal, the U.S. took a while to get going, ceding possession to El Tri and looking to attack on the break. Mexico appeared to take a 2-0 lead off a corner kick in minute 24, but Héctor Moreno was correctly ruled offside.

Minutes later, Team USA had their first of six corner kicks (and each one proved dangerous!). U.S. skipper Christian Pulisic whipped in the cross, Weston McKennie flicked a header that bounded off the far post and Gio Reyna was first to react, rippling the back of the net before Mexico could react.

El Tri struggles to defend set pieces

McKennie getting his head on a corner kick would become a recurring theme even after Mexico switched to zone coverage on corners. El Tri netminder Guillermo Ochoa made two saves off McKennie headers, but was unable to save a third when the Juventus prodigy was allowed a free run at another corner, banging it home inside the far post as two Mexican defenders failed to react.

That U.S. goal only tied the score, as second-half sub Diego Lainez ripped a low shot past substitute keeper Horvath who had come on 10 minutes earlier to replace an injured Steffen. Horvath would not be beaten again. The Club Brugge goalie came up with a splendid save to preserve the tie in minute 89, parrying a “Chucky” Lozano shot around the far post.

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Midway through the first overtime period, El Tri appeared to be on the front foot. Horvath was forced to make another save on a Lozano shot and Lainez was wreaking havoc on both wings.

Early in the second overtime period, all hell broke loose Pulisic went down in the box after being dispossessed and VAR officials alerted ref John Pitti (from Panama) who studied the video before pointing to the spot.

It was a controversial call (defender Carlos Salcedo appeared to cut off Pulisic with a hip check before clearing the ball, but you could argue that he got to the spot first), and the UEFA Champions League medal-winner fired the penalty top right where Ochoa could not repeat his semifinals heroics. El Tri trailed 3-2.

Four minutes later, VAR alerted Pitti about a potential hand ball on US defender McKenzie and after a lengthy review, the ref awarded El Tri a penalty. Up stepped captain Andrés Guardado, but the 6’3” Horvath guessed right and got his right mitt on Guardado’s low shot, denying El Tri the equalizer.

The U.S. held on, closing out the 3-2 win to momentarily stake claim to regional bragging rights. I say momentarily because the two Concacaf giants are expected to meet again in this summer’s Gold Cup.

Notes: The setback was the first loss to the United States for “Tata” Martino who was unbeaten in six previous matches. The Argentine had guided Mexico to wins in his first two meetings since taking charge of El Tri and Martino had won four previous matches against the U.S. while in charge of Argentina and Paraguay.

Mexico’s last loss to Team USA came back on Sept. 11, 2018, when El Tri came up short (1-0) in a friendly in Nashville, Tennessee.

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The Nations League title was the first piece of hardware for the Red-White-and-Blue since they hoisted the 2017 Gold Cup trophy after defeating Jamaica 2-1 in the final.