USMNT celebrates winning Concacaf Nations League crown. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FronttRowSoccer.com Editor

It remains to seen whether the United States’ 3-2 thrilling and classic triumph over archrival Mexico in the Concacaf Natiions League final will be a turning point for this young national team will be.

But it could go very far in defining what this young team can accomplish, especially the way the side mucked its way through to victory Sunday night.

It was a game for the ages that had just about everything, including lead and momentum shifts, unlikely heroes, a goalkeeper coming in cold off the bench and a pair of 11th-hour penalty kicks that decided one of the best confrontations in a rivalry that dates back to 1934.

The game was settled by penalties, but not in a shootout.

Christian Pulisic converted a PK in the 114th minute to snap a 2-2 deadlock and lift the Americans to a 3-2 lead before 37,648 spectators at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver.

Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, making only his sixth international appearances, was forced into the match in the 68th minute due to an injury to Zack Steffen. He turned into an unlikely hero by saving Andres Guardado’s penalty two minutes into second extratime stoppage time (122nd minute).

But the match was far from decided. Two minutes into injury time in the second extratime, the USA was called for a handball in the box and after consultation with VAR, the referee ruled a penalty kick for El Tri.

Veteran Andres Guardado took the spot kick and fired a shot to the lower left corner that Horvath guessed the correct direction and knocked the ball away with his right hand. Guardado fell to his knees in disbelief and frustration.

Asked to put the game into perspective, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter replied, “Oh my goodness. It’s hard. It really is. Think about a final and giving up a goal in the second minute of the game. And then the way we came back, got level at halftime then go down again then come back again late in the game.

“Overtime was just a complete mess. With everything that was going on in the game the guys still stay cool and still able to focus. What I really like is in the last minutes of the game how calm and collected we were to just keep the ball in the corner, and get throw-in after throw-in and kill the game. Really heads up and really good performance by in the guys.”

To put the game further in perspective, the USA’s Starting XI was its youngest ever in a tournament final (24 years, 206 days). This is a new generation of USMNT players, many of which perform in Europe.

“It was important for this group,” Berhalter said. “We’re a young side, and we need to learn how to win. These games are very difficult. It was about having a game plan executing the game plan but then it’s also about the fight in the spirit, and, you know, again, when you think that we went down in the second minute of the game. … Give the guys a ton of credit for the way they hung in there, and really showed you know the heart of champions.”

Midfielder Sebastian Lletget agreed.

“It’s just a huge step for this group,” he said. “It just gives us more belief that we can really move forward and we can and we can play with the big teams. Even though we beat them today, they’re very good team and we know that. But it’s it’s about who wants it more and I and, and I think today we, we showed that.

“It’s got to go down as one of the best USA-Mexico games I’ve ever seen or I’ve ever been a part of. Amazing, amazing.” honestly.

It was a game and a heated battle between two long-time rivals that was certainly worthy of a final.

End to end action between the United States and Mexico.

The Americans conceded a goal 71 seconds after kickoff and twice overcame deficits.

Scoring and playmaking heroics by an 18-year-old midfielder, Gio Reyna, and a dramatic equalizer by a teammate, Weston McKennie, who would not give up after being denied three times, twice by the goalkeeper and once by the woodwork.

And 11th-hour heroics by Horvath, was forced to come on cold and made several key saves down stretch before his PK save.

Guardado fired a shot to the lower left corner that Horvath guessed the correct direction and knocked the ball away with his right hand. Guardado fell to his knees in disbelief and frustration.

“Coming into a game like that and and being able to play the hero for us, it’s amazing and it’s well deserved,” McKennie said. “He doesn’t put his head down. He doesn’t shy away from from the task at hand and he got it done.”

Only minutes prior, some head’s up play by Pulisic, just off Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League win last week, created his penalty kick. He ran between two Mexicans – Jesús Gallardo and Carlos Salcedo and was ruled to be fouled by Salcedo after the referee used VAR to determine the infraction.

Pulisic drilled a bullet into the upper right corner past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa for what turned into the deciding score. The Hershey, Pa. native celebrated by taking off his shirt and running to the corner with the rest of his teammates. During the celebrations, fans, presumably Mexican supporters, threw projectiles from the stands at the USMNT players. Gio Reyna appeared to have been hit and needed medical attention.

El Tri enjoyed the early run of play and almost had a two-goal advantage by the 24th minute.

It was bad enough for the USA that the Mexicans struck paydirt only 71 seconds after the opening kickoff. USMNT defender Mark McKenzie, who endured a shaky first half. was the culprit on the play, allowing his pass to get intercepted and fed to Jesus Corona, who beat goalkeeper Zack Steffen from close range.

It was the Mexicans’ second earliest goal against the USA in the modern era.

VAR saved the Americans from a difficult two-goal deficit in the 24th minute as Hirving Lozano’s goal was nullified by an offside call.

On the other end of the field, the USA worked its way back into the match. Off a Christian Pulisic corner kick, Weston McKennie headed the ball off the left post. The rebound came to Reyna, who slotted the ball home for a 1-1 tie.

Reyna, the son of former U.S. international captain and midfielder Claudio Reyna, became the second youngest player (18 years, 205 days) to score for the USMNT. Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore, a former Red Bulls was the youngest (18 years, 92 days) to find the net.

TV cameras showed a shot of Claudio and his wife Danielle celebrating in the stands.

The USMNT continued to show defensive vulnerability as Lozano latched onto a ball over the top of the defense and raced in on goal in the 44th minute. Steffen, however, saved the shot to keep the score level entering halftime.

Within a nine-minute span in the second half, McKennie twice was denied by Ochoa. His first attempt, a 22-yard bullet in the 62nd minute, was denied by the keeper, who made a spectacular save on the 22-year-old midfielder’s header in the 71st minute.

McKennie finally solved Ochoa, but not before Diego Laenz beat Horvath in the 79th minute to give the Mexicans a short-lived 2-1 lead.

Three minutes after Laenz’s goal, McKennie struck for the equalizer as he headed in a Reyna feed for a 2-2 deadlock.

“If it wasn’t for Ethan’s heroics, Weston would have been the man of the match for us because he was fantastic and [had] tremendous work rate,” Berhalter said. “Just covering a lot of ground. … He ad a couple shots from distance he was really dynamic.”

Horvath came up with some late heroics of his own, tipping away Lozano’s drive in the 90th minute.