GC Daily: Mexico end 14 years of hurt by humbling USA

Your Tuesday morning, latest news, thoughts, poems, analysis, and quotes from the W Gold Cup

GC Daily: Mexico end 14 years of hurt by humbling USA
Mexico women celebrate a monumental moment in their nation's history | Courtesy of FMF

Note: Welcome to Gold Cup Daily. A quick snapshot of the tournament's action from the previous day, and the key details of group tables and next matches.

Monday's Group A results:
Argentina 3-0 Dominican Rep.
USA 0-2 Mexico

"Be bold."

Those were the two words that Mexico's head coach Pedro Lopez uttered to Mayra Pelayo before she entered the match, in the 81st minute, against the country of her birth.

El Tri were leading the USA 1-0. And in Lopez's mind, it wasn't time to retreat too far inside one's shell. A coach sticks to the principles that had got them to this point. Don't back down.

Deployed on the left wing, Pelayo's modus operandi is to cut in and work a shot on goal.

In the short time she was on the pitch, the right-footed winger from Florida rattled off three attempts. More than any other player on the night. She was bold.

The first went wide of the mark. The second forced a save from Alyssa Naeher.

The third shot, though. That is the effort that will go down as one of the most historic goals in Mexican women's football history.

Pelayo received a long switch of play from a throw-in. There's not a whole lot on. There is space to attack in front of USA right back Midge Purce. There's even an avenue to kill some time towards the corner flag.

The 27-year-old's intentions were clear. A one-track mind. End the contest. And in style.

It happens all on Pelayo's right foot. Never looking down, eyes always toward the goal.

One touch. Two touches. Dotted toes. Three touches. Ballet steps. Swiveled hips. Gasps. Four touches. Feint one side. Send Purce the wrong way. Reset balance. Set the shot. Five touches. Ready. Six touches. Goal. Net rippling. Shout. Scream. Roar.

The goal sealed a poetic 'dos a cero' for the women. A reverse jinx of the rivalry lore that has plagued Mexico's men's team.

"The option of losing against the United States was never there."

I've never experienced an earthquake but I would point to this match, and this moment, as how I imagine the sensation. Footballing seismic activity.

1,371 miles away, watching the match in a living room in Houston, Texas, it felt like the ground shook. Normal frequencies stood still. Everything we knew shifted slightly.

As Pelayo's goal sailed through the air it unlocked something in the ether. It further dissolved the lustre coating the USA that contained a notion of invincibility. Did it forge a new world?

"I assure you, you could ask the players that the loss was never discussed. The option of losing against the United States was never there" said Lopez adamantly.

Speaking before the match on Sunday, the Mexico manager had spoken about Mexico being a wolf in sheep's clothing. And how he wanted to see the wolf come out.

With a wry smile, Lopez returned to the idiom and proudly stated: "We have seen that wolf tonight."

4,861 days

In terms of the 2024 Gold Cup, the monumental result means Mexico advances out of Group A in first place. The USA will be second and could even drop to being the fourth or fifth seed in the Quarterfinal rankings.

But, for many, this will mean much more than topping the group.

Not since the year 2010 had Mexico beaten the United States. In the two nations' history of 41 meetings, only once before had El Tri won (2010).

It had been 4,861 long days since El Tri had beaten the USA. For the players, the fans, and for the Concacaf region this was an eternity.

Even longer was the USA's 24-year unbeaten record on home soil against Concacaf opposition, as well as a 33-match streak without conceding a goal in Concacaf competition.

In some ways, what cushioned the shock of all of these records tumbling was the manner of the USA performance. To call it a no-show is an understatement.

This was by far their worst display under interim head coach Twila Kilgore. With nine shots and an xG of 0.33 (per Opta), it is statistically their worst attacking showing in both departments.

"They had an interesting shape that we prepared for. I thought we had our traps on the right spots, but we just let them out," explained Kilgore.

"Today, Mexico was the better team," summarized Alex Morgan, when talking to CBS.

Emily Sonnett (left) and Becky Sauerbrunn (right) try to stop Karina Rodríguez | Courtesy of Concacaf

Mexico didn't necessarily do anything too complex either. They reduced their own opportunities for errors while increasing the chances of a fault in their opponent.

It was simple direct football. They just executed. Taking their goals with a much higher-than-average finishing ability. But that's what Liga MX Femenil players can do with 14 shots and an xG of 0.88 (per Opta).

Lopez's game plan was to press high, force mistakes, and pin the USA's fullbacks up the pitch. At the back, get the ball out early. El Tri consistently territorial gains, playing it long and in behind the full backs. Mexico won nine corners to the USA's one.

Mexico offered up a hybrid back four, in a 4-3-3, and a back three/five in a 3-4-3. Usual centreback Rebeca Bernal was anchoring the midfield. That way, she was ready to drop in a make it a back five at a moment's notice.

It worked. The Americans' lines couldn't connect. El Tri wingers Maria Sanchez and Jacqueline Ovalle, the consensus pick for player of the match, had a field day.

Any turnover in the U.S. half opened up a speculative opportunity. None more so than on the opening goal, where Ovalle put captain Becky Sauerbrunn under pressure, forced a mistake from the usually impeccable defender, and then chipped the goalkeeper.

"It's a good microcosm for the game because it came from a defensive goal kick for us, which is something that we generally pride ourselves on and we didn't win the first ball didn't win the second ball," Kilgore said about the opening goal.

Mexico smelt blood from the kickoff. And a ponderous low-energy USA team were lambs to the slaughter.

Ovalle and Pelayo's goals were stunning. But perhaps not as stunning as the world of international football the two strikes may have awoken. A world where Concacaf is no longer the USA's kingdom to reign freely and unblemished.

The W Gold Cup has its first truly iconic moment. We relish it. Be bold.

NEXT: Tue. 27 Feb. Group B fixtures:
Colombia v Puerto Rico | 6:00 p.m. ET
Brazil v Panama | 9:15 p.m. ET