Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino was running the Atlanta United of Major League Soccer when the team made Miles Robinson the No. 2 overall pick of the SuperDraft in 2017.
Martino watched helplessly Sunday night as Robinson headed home the decisive goal for the United States in the waning minutes of extra time for a 1-0 win in the championship match of the CONCACAF Gold Cup at Allegiant Stadium.
Robinson was already one of the stars because of his defensive prowess throughout much of the match, putting his aerial superiority in front of his own goal on display to help keep a wild game scoreless before his heroics lifted the U.S. to victory.
The 24-year-old defender, who played collegiately at Syracuse, maneuvered his way through several defenders and knocked Kellyn Acosta’s well-placed free kick into the back of the net with authority in the 117th minute.
Robinson and the rest of the U.S. side held off Mexico in the next few minutes before the celebration began.
The overwhelmingly partisan-Mexican sold-out crowd of 61,514, the first capacity crowd for a sporting event at the stadium and the most fans to watch a soccer game live in Nevada, were treated to a frenetic match even if neither team could score until the end.
The teams combined for 36 shots, including 22 from Mexico.
Matt Turner, named goalkeeper of the tournament, made a spectacular diving save on a header in the box off a corner in the first half and stopped five on-target attempts.
The U.S., which left most of its top-line players off the roster for this tournament, allowed Mexico to carry 64 percent of the possession and generate several good chances.
“We gave up more chances than we would have liked, but fast forward and it’s 0-0 and they’re asking questions about themselves because they didn’t have a goal,” Turner said.
It was the U.S. that eventually found the answer.
“We did not stop,” coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It was relentless from us. That’s the mark of a good team.”
His team won all three matches of the knockout stage 1-0 with all of the winning goals coming in the 83rd minute or later.
Despite the exclusion of so many of the top-tier talents who will begin World Cup qualifying this year, Berhalter said he always thought the team he was putting on the field could win the Gold Cup.
His faith was rewarded.
“It was the best birthday gift I could’ve gotten, but it wasn’t for me,” said Berhalter, who turned 48 on Sunday. “It was for the players. I’m so excited for them and proud of them. I really wanted it for this group.
“I can’t say enough about their spirit and hard work and dedication. It was a great month for them.”
Robinson’s heroics might have put his former coach’s tenure as head of the Mexican national team on life support.
The Argentinian debuted with a Gold Cup title over the United States in 2019, but the vultures were circling Sunday after Mexico lost its second major tournament championship game to its rivals this summer.
The U.S. won the inaugural Nations League title with a 3-2 extra time victory over Mexico in June and has won seven Gold Cups, second to Mexico’s 11.
It’s the second time in seven tries that the U.S. beat its rivals in the championship game