USA vs. Mexico, 2023 CONCACAF Nations League semifinal
USA vs. Mexico, 2023 CONCACAF Nations League semifinal

CNL Semi-Finals As It Happened: USA 3 – 0 Mexico

9 minutes, 50 seconds Read

The USMNT sank Mexico 3-0 in the CONCACAF Nations League Semi-Finals, under interim coach BJ Callaghan’s first game on the gig – a rivalry match packed with goals, plotlines, action, and, most importantly, utter mayhem.

We take a closer look at how it all went down, the context of some of the key plays within the flow of the game, and what it means for the team going forward.

Christian Pulisic scored a brace, and Ricardo Pepi added a third as the United States destroyed a woeful Mexico team to advance to the CONCACAF Nations League final against Canada on Sunday.

Let’s take a look at how the game went for Callaghan’s and his team, as it happened:

Team USA (4-2-3-1): 1. Turner (GK) — 2. Sergiño Dest (red card — 86′), 4. Chris Richards, 12. Miles Robinson (Walker Zimmerman, 82′), 5. Antonee Robinson — 8. Weston McKennie (red card — 72′), 6. Yunus Musah — 21. Tim Weah (Brenden Aaronson, 82′), 10. Christian Pulisic, 7. Gio Reyna (Luca de la Torre, 74′) — 20. Folarin Balogun (Ricardo Pepi, 74′).

Interim head coach Callaghan puts out a strong lineup, and as expected, Folarin Balogun officially makes his USMNT debut as things get going in Las Vegas. There is much on the line for both teams in this game, now and in the future. The victor will play Canada in the CONCACAF Nations League final on Sunday, and have bragging rights for at least a few weeks, until the expected meeting in the Gold Cup final.

The United States has most of the attacking possession early on, but Mexico gets the game’s first look at goal in the third minute, forcing Matt Turner to leave his position and make a point-blank save. An excellent vertical ball looped from the left in front of the goal.

The US has attempted to attack Mexico in waves in the early going, but has not shown the necessary insight. There are some excellent ideas in the last third, but they must be executed. Early on, a few fouls were committed by Yunus Musah and Antonee Robinson.

When Mexico is on the ball, they look good, and the United States still needs to put Mexico under much pressure. This El Tri team is here to compete.

Still, there are signs of trouble for the visitors. Mexico needs help keeping up with Gio Reyna’s overlapping runs together with Tim Weah on the right flank, hoping to find debutant Balogun in the box.

The biggest chance presents itself in the 23rd minute for US captain, Pulisic, who does all the hard work right but fails the easy part. The Chelsea player exerts all of the efforts, evading Mexican defenders across half of the field, before slipping by the careless Memo Ochoa and gaining space in front of the goal on the penalty spot.

He only needs to finish around the two Mexico defenders positioned on the goal mouth, but instead, he sends the ball sailing over the crossbar. It’s undoubtedly the best opportunity for either side thus far, and a major relief for Mexico that they haven’t conceded the lead!

However, CP10 does well to redeem himself after missing that absolute sitter. The match’s first yellow card is given as a result of a foul committed by Uriel Antuna on Pulisic, who is still destroying the Mexican midfield. Antuna was correctly flagged for essentially tackling the captain’s ankle after he had sped past him. The American has not caught fire, and is causing havoc to the rival’s backline.

The former BVB winger finally does write himself onto the scoresheet in the 37th minute; although his previous attempt failed, he made no mistakes this time because he has simply driven Mexico into a careless frenzy with his relentlessness.

Reyna works diligently to produce a vertical feed that deflects off the feet of Jorge Sanchez and directly to Pulisic as the US attempts to go right down the center. He finishes the chance by placing his left-footed shot inside the far post and across the goal face. It’s the American breakthrough!

Since falling behind shortly before the break, Mexico has recovered and is playing a bit better as the halftime whistle approaches. Antuna wins a corner after Antonee Robinson’s cross is clipped. McKennie manages to clear the eventual delivery despite the corner being short. The ref blows his whistle for the half, 1-0 to the States!

Half Time thoughts:

The United States is ahead at halftime thanks to a goal from Pulisic in the 37th minute, who has been the best player on the field through the first 45 minutes.

The captain has taken the initiative, and Reyna has excelled in midfield. Although the United States’ performance wasn’t always pretty, their starting lineup’s talent is unquestionably superior to that of El Tri.

Mexico is struggling everywhere, but they don’t have the individual talent to invent crucial moments, and their errors at the back continue to haunt them. It’s the same old story for them. Head coach Diego Cocca claimed before the game that he was already facing criticism, and unless they impress in the second half, that criticism will likely persist.

The second half begins:

It’s a lightening-quick start from the Yanks as Pulisic taps in his second on the night from a beautiful ball in from Weah! Only a few seconds into the second half, the Lille man tears apart the Mexican left flank and feeds a cross laterally to the doorstep, where Pulisic slides to meet the ball with a quality finish. It’s just too easy for the United States at this point. Mexico doesn’t know what hit them!

Reyna is on the ground and bleeding from the nose after being struck in the face by Antuna’s shoulder in the 57th minute. The winger’s shoulder slamming into Reyna’s nose is a horrendous challenge; Antuna has already been carded in the first half, so this offense could, and maybe should end his night early.

The referee is conversing with his assistants and deliberating for a long time, however Antuna ends up extremely fortunate to remain on the field after the officiating crew opts to avoid a sending off. Still, this could work in the Americans’ favor, as Reyna seems more amped after getting a bloody nose and is rallying the US ultras.

However, things start to go south a few minutes later. In the 69th minute, tempers get out of hand as we saw two red cards issued by the referee.

Balogun is struck in the back of the hamstrings by Cesar Montes in an offensive foul, and the referee immediately shows him the straight red card. Even so, a full-fledged brawl does not end, and McKennie emerges with his jersey wholly torn to shreds. Let’s wait and see what happens after this mess. The Mexican team have lost their collective cool and are playing recklessly on emotion.

Surprisingly, the referee also shows McKennie a red card for an unforeseen reason, disqualifying him from the matchup with Canada in the championship game. That doesn’t make much sense considering that his jersey was torn entirely when he exited the scrum. However, the decision was made by the VAR team, who seemed to have penalized him for putting his hands around Sanchez’s neck.

For the final 20 minutes and change of this game, it’s ten vs. ten. Although this was inevitable considering the slow escalation of tempers, it is utterly absurd that McKennie was singled out for his part in the chaotic scrum while Sanchez received no repercussions.

Callaghan makes his adjustments as the game resumes, bringing on Pepi and Luca de la Torre for Balogun and Reyna. It’s too bad that Folarin’s debut didn’t include his first goal in the stars and stripes, but as long as the team holds on for the win, we can find a way to live with it.

Turner was called to action in minute 76, making a fine stop to deny El Tri a way back into the game, albeit on a chance that came due to his own error. The Arsenal shot-stopper gives a really sloppy pass to Musah out of the back, which is intercepted. The 28-year-old then steps forward to make a huge stop on the follow-up after Chris Richards successfully blocks a crucial first shot. It is irrelevant now that the flag has been raised, but it is still significant.

Then moments later…All aboard the Pepi train!

The 20-year-old makes it three for the USMNT in the 78th minute, and that is game set match. After some brilliant play by Sergino Dest, Pepi cleanly slots the ball into the back of the net to win the game!

Although the replay eventually demonstrates that Pepi was onside, the flag was initially raised. Dest did an outstanding job on the play to set up the goal, and the former Dallas star did fine work to round Ochoa and create an angle for the finish. That’s it; the United States will undoubtedly compete in the Nations League final on Sunday against the Canadians!

Miles Robinson, who was already booked, is replaced by Walker Zimmerman, and Weah is switched out for Brenden Aaronson moments later.

The chaos all starts again in the 86th minute as we see even more players sent off. Once more, Mexico is the aggressor as Edson Alvarez kicks Dest, making the American unhappy. In response, Dest gives in to his feelings and shoves back directly in the face of Gerardo Arteaga after receiving three pushes from Arteaga. Dest and Arteaga are shown red.

The players from Mexico are losing all composure and acting out. Two American players fell victim to foolishness and will no longer be able to play in the championship game. There is no justification for Dest to descend to Mexico’s level, even though McKennie’s fate handed down earlier from the referee crew is questionable.

For the remainder of the game, it will be nine v nine. In the aftermath, yellow cards were also issued to Richards and Ochoa. Pulisic is then taken off the field by Callaghan and is also given a booking for leaving the area too slowly.

Despite the win, this is a total catastrophe because we have a final still to play, missing key players.

12 minutes are added due to the multople sending-offs; it also doesn’t help the loud Mexican supporters start yelling their well-known homophobic slurs from the stands. They’ve been warned, a typical reoccurrence from their ultras.

Fun fact; the El Tri fans have been warned more times than they saw their team score tonight (ZERO)!

The referee finally blows the whistle for full-time, and the United States of America will face Canada to defend their CNL title here in Las Vegas on Sunday.

My man of the match has to go to the skipper, Christian Pulisic. Two goals, dribbling-inspired mayham, constantly looking like a threat, and he really should’ve picked up a hat-trick. The 24-year-old is now the fastest player to reach 25 goals for the USMNT.

The United States performed admirably overall, but that only tells part of the whole story of this match. The Mexican players repeatedly embarrassed themselves on the field with their play and complete lack of emotional control, and their supporters did likewise.

Although McKennie and Dest were dismissed from the game, the United States still advanced to the final. A win is a win, especially when it’s over Mexico, but this time it didn’t come without some negatives.

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Abdul Abdullahi

University Student from Ohio. Massive soccer/football fan and love talking about the beautiful game. Covering anything Chelsea FC and Americans at home and abroad. At the start of his long journey taking one step at a time.

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