It’s been a few long years. The fateful night of October 2017 in Trinidad stands out, when the United States men’s national team was officially knocked out of the World Cup for the first time since we began ensuring a competitive national team, but there have been plenty of other lows.
The losses sting more because it was mexico, because it was the USMNT’s main rival in the region. Games against El Tri are hard to win, and they mean more. Even if they mean nothing.
That was pretty much the case for the CONCACAF Nations League final. What exactly was at stake in this tournament? World Cup Qualification and Gold Cup Positioning, both of which would almost certainly have won the USMNT and Mexico. It was hard to see how the competition would do much further further stratify the haves and have-nots in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Moreover, thanks to the pandemic, this first edition of it stretched all the way back to autumn 2019.
So no matter how fierce the rivalry is, you’d be forgiven for struggling to muster enthusiasm. Except the USMNT’s 3-2 comeback win over Mexico in extra time was much more fun and immersive and bats than it had a right to be. And more importantly, fans of not only football, but of sports in general have been waiting for this kind of exhalation for a long time.
The pandemic has shaken up every sports league around the planet – not that they were really that important in the context of it — and major events were either postponed, canceled outright or held in a zombified fashion. Fans were also not allowed in stadiums around the world, draining the spectacle and energy that the grim reality of the situation had not yet eradicated.
Now that fans are slowly packing stadiums again, the return is partly about but generally well received. That coordinates nicely with Sunday’s melting pot, with some idiots acting dangerous but most of them were regaling a game that was exciting enough on its own.
Everybody was tweet about the. Everyone applauded it. Everyone was mad about it.
Mexico scores a minute into the game? Same old USMNT.
Does Weston McKennie equalize late in regulation time? That’s new.
Was this a penalty? that Christian Pulisic drew against Mexico? uhhh.
did reserve goalkeeper Ethan Horvath shortly afterwards really save Mexico’s own penalty? Yes!
How could Hector Herrera not get a red card multiple times? Don’t let us start.
The tension, as always, was heightened, even when the stakes were not. Both nations realized what kind of opportunity it was, and that’s one of the few credits to the Nations League. If CONCACAF and the other governing bodies of football continue with blatant cash jokes, we might as well set things up like this best national teams more often have the opportunity to meet.
That’s how the USMNT and Mexico handled this game. In a vacuum, neither side had their first choice, but they were close. Moreover, international football does not take place in a vacuum. It’s all about how your schedule can pick up and drop varying rosters and tactics during an already crowded club-level calendar. Starting your best XI in a particular match is a privilege, not a prescribed right.
So both the teams and the fans lent weight to the game. How much weight will it carry in the future?
That is perhaps the most important question. For one night it was a big thing on people’s radars. It could become something bigger if it serves as a springboard for this generation of American men’s soccer players, which has been called “golden” for right reasons.
This is the first time this group — who played a Champions League Winner, a Premier League Winner, a Ligue 1 winner and key figures at many major clubs across Europe – came together to win something at international level. Fans hope it won’t be the last, and this group hopes to qualify for the 2022 World Cup before hosting the event (along with Mexico and Canada) in 2026.
There will be other opportunities to win trophies in the meantime. This triumph over Mexico, the first in a so-called “competitive” game in nearly eight years, could become iconic in US football history if the USMNT wants it to.
Don’t underestimate that desire. That was what made Sunday so special, when there were plenty of reasons not to be. We didn’t need to include any imports. We just decided to.
More from Yahoo Sports: