- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2021

In the inaugural CONCACAF Nationals League final Sunday night in Denver, the U.S. and Mexico produced what the two rivals often do: fireworks.

Those fireworks included extra time, in which two penalty kicks — one for the U.S. and one for Mexico — decided the outcome of a 3-2 win for the U.S. But there were other issues at play Sunday that cast a shadow over the excitement on the pitch.

Before Christian Pulisic buried his would-be game-winning penalty kick in extra time, the match was halted late in regulation due to an anti-gay chant from Mexican supporters in the crowd. The stoppage lasted three minutes, and players from both teams urged the crowd to stop the chant.

Sunday marked the second match of the tournament to be paused over anti-gay chants at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver. The first came in Mexico’s semifinal win against Costa Rica, and several fans were ejected from the stadium during that game.

Through CONCACAF’s anti-discrimination protocol, the referee has the authority to send the players to the locker rooms and abandon the match if the chant is continually used after a warning from the public address announcer and a pause in play.

There were other issues Sunday, too. After Pulisic’s penalty, objects — such as cups and water bottles — were thrown onto the field at the celebrating American players. Midfielder Gio Reyna, 18, was hit in the face with one of those objects, and he stayed down on the field for several minutes before walking off with trainers. Reyna returned to the field later after the game finished to partake in the trophy celebration.

And toward the end of the match, a fan ran onto the pitch. The fan was tackled and taken away by security.

“Total lack of respect for what’s happening on the field and all effort that both teams are putting into the game,” U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter told ESPN. “I think [Reyna’s] going to be OK, but he did take something to the head, and it could have been a lot worse.”

Those issues marred what was an otherwise electric soccer game.

Pulisic scored his penalty attempt in the 114th minute. Ethan Horvath, the U.S.’s backup goalkeeper pressed into action when Zack Steffen departed with injury, played hero, saving Andres Guardado’s penalty 10 minutes after Pulisic’s go-ahead score.

The save sealed the U.S.’s 3-2 victory in the final, which included two comebacks earlier in the contest to force extra time at all. Mexico was on the front foot for most of the first half, and El Tri would have taken a 2-0 advantage had a video review not scrapped a second goal.

That opened the door for Reyna’s equalizer late in the opening half, reacting to a ball that hit off the goalpost and steering it home. After Diego Lainez gave Mexico a 2-1 edge with just over 10 minutes to play in regulation, Weston McKennie’s header off a corner kick found another equalizer for the U.S.

For a U.S. team that missed out on World Cup qualification in 2018, there’s a slew of young prospects making their way through the ranks. The three goal scorers are part of that wave, with Reyna, Pulisic and McKennie all 22 or younger while playing key roles for top sides in England and Germany.

A win over Mexico in the CONCACAF Nations League final showed their promise can lead to results.

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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