USMNT celebrates winning Concacaf Nations League final in June. (USA TODAY Sports)
Every U.S. men’s national team supporter is familiar with the famous dos a cero result.
But 2021 ushered in a new way to celebrate American wins over Mexico – tres a cero – as in three victories and no losses – in three high-profile games over 160 days. That would be the Concacaf Nations League final, the Concacaf Gold Cup final and a World Cup qualifier.
“I think we’ve earned respect,” said midfielder Christian Pulisic, who connected for the game-winner goal in two of the three matches. “The last couple of times we played them, they understand what we’re about and we understand what they’re about. That’s what makes a great rivalry. I’m just really happy that we could that we could come out on top again tonight. We knew it was always going to be a good game against Mexico. To get three points just helps us get a lot closer to qualifying.”
Let’s start with the Nations League final in Denver, Colo. on June 6.
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.
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).
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.”
Less than two months later, the Americans did another victory lap, this time to celebrate winning the Concacaf Gold Cup at at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Aug. 1.
That Sunday night, the young Americans taught a much more experienced Mexico squad some ABC’s of the beautiful game and probably many soccer fans some lessons in perseverance, intensity, grit and making the most of their chances.
Actually, the USA needed only one chance. Defender Miles Robinson headed home Kellyn Acosta’s free kick from six yards past goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera in the 117th minute to secure its seventh Gold Cup championship wqith a 1-0 victory.
The Americans captured the Concacaf Nations Cup over Mexico, also in extratime. What made this sweeter was that Mexico deployed its A team in this competition, while the USMNT rested many of its European-based players.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys in this in this group,” Robinson said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys that are willing to fight for each other and fight for this country and prove that the United States is a country that has to be taken seriously.
“We really put our head down and grinded out results throughout the tournament.”
The USMNT made it three in a row in Cincinnati, Ohio on Nov. 12.
A few seconds after Weston McKennie’s shot hit the back of the net in the 85th minute familiar refrain emanated from the great state of Ohio for the first time in eight years.
Perhaps you heard it:
Dos a cero!
Dos a cero!
The fans chanted it for the remainder of the World Cup qualifying match at TQL Stadium.
They chanted it incessantly as they left the stadium.
The Americans just didn’t defeat Mexico, they dominated their archrivals for almost an hour of the emphatic 2-0 victory.
Dos a cero had become emblematic of the U.S.’s dominance of Mexico in qualifying matches on American soil. The U.S. Men’s National team had won four consecutive times in Columbus (2001, 2005, 2009, 2013) before the Mexicans broke the string in 2016.
Even though both teams have 4-1-2 record and 14 points, the triumph propelled the USA into first place in the Concacaf Octagonal. The Americans have two things going in their favor – superior goal differential (plus seven to plus five) and in head-to-head competition.
“It’s a huge to help us to get three points, in first place in the group, and to be in this position is unbelievable,” said Pulisic, whose 74th-minute goal broke the deadlock.