Jonathan dos Santos scored the only goal as Mexico defeated the United States 1-0 to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup for a record eighth time at Soldier Field on Sunday.
Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder dos Santos rifled home in the 73rd minute to settle a hard-fought encounter between the two arch-rivals of North American football in front of 62,493 fans.
“I am happy because the boys made a great effort and today we played against one of the best teams in the Gold Cup,” said Mexico coach Tata Martino. “They have made a good effort and a good match. It makes me happy because it was also my first international title.”
Mexico have now won the Gold Cup eight times since 1991 when the championship for teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) was rebooted.
It was a disappointing defeat for the American men, who had been hoping to complete a trophy double after the US women had powered to victory over the Netherlands in the World Cup in France earlier on Sunday.
“Over the course of 90 minutes, Mexico was the better team,” US coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Having said that, we started the game really bright.
“I think what we lacked was some of the calmness, some of the composure.”
Dos Santos’s winner was the outstanding move of a pulsating duel that saw the United States pay the price for failing to take advantage of several promising early chances.
The decisive goal came after a surging run down the right flank by Mexico’s Rodolfo Pizarro.
The Monterrey playmaker fed Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Raul Jimenez, who produced a delightful back heel into the path of dos Santos who curled his shot into the top corner past USA goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
But the defeat left Berhalter reflecting on what might have been after his team had started the first half strongly, carving out a string of promising chances as Mexico took their time to get into the game.
“When you talk about a step the team needs to take, we’re close,” Berhalter said. “But we weren’t there tonight.”
Chelsea’s new $72 million signing Christian Pulisic squandered a golden opportunity to fire the Americans ahead after only six minutes, latching on to a deft layoff from striker Jozy Altidore.
Pulisic’s searing pace took him clear of the Mexican defence, with Carlos Salcedo doing his best to unbalance the US attacker without conceding a penalty. But the Mexicans breathed a sigh of relief after Pulisic could only shoot directly at goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
The Mexicans received another huge let-off only two minutes later. A speculative long ball forward from defender Tim Ream caught the Mexico defence off-guard and Altidore was left in a one-on-one with Hector Moreno.
‘Tough way to lose’
Altidore cleverly wrong-footed Moreno to leave himself one-on-one with Ochoa, but could only look on in disgust as he dragged his left foot shot just wide of the post.
“It is disappointing to lose a final,” said American midfielder Michael Bradley. “We had some good chances. Getting the first goal can go a long ways towards winning the game.
“We had a good start to the game and if anything, the beginning of the second half wasn’t what it needed to be. They were able to get some momentum and get their goal. It was a tough way to lose.”
The frenetic start also produced some rugged challenges. Altidore was lucky to escape at least a yellow card for scything down dos Santos while Pulisic was also fortunate not to be booked for a ferocious tackle from behind that sent Edson Alvarez crashing to the turf.
At the other end Mexico also began to test the US defence, with Andres Guardado shooting over on 16 minutes after a desperate late block from Paul Arriola.
Tempers threatened to boil over soon after half-time when Altidore and Moreno tangled on halfway, which saw players from both sides rush to confront each other.
The US almost broke the deadlock in the 51st minute when Jordan Morris’s header from a Pulisic corner was cleared off the line by Guardado.
But that was as good as it got for the US side as Mexico slowly began to dominate midfield, with the lively Pizarro a constant threat.
“We will stick together in this moment. I am certainly proud of the group. We continue to make progress and we got to keep going,” Bradley said.