HAVANA -- The game had everything. Ebb and flow of offense. Exceptional goaltending. Overtime. Goals by the youngest player on the U.S. soccer team and, when he was injured, by his replacement. A raucous group of Mexican fans. A fracas between the teams afterward.
All in all, it was quite a spectacle as the United States beat Mexico 2-1 last night for the first Pan American Games gold medal in U.S. soccer history.
This group of players ages 23 and under went through the tournament with a 5-0 record, becoming only the third champion in 11 Pan Am Games to finish unbeaten and untied. It was also the first Pan Am Games tournament in which South America's traditional powers -- Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay -- did not participate because they refused to play a qualifying round.
Asked if he wished they had been here, U.S. coach Lothar Osiander was plainly glad they were not.
"Let's not go too far for now," he said. "There's no rush in doing that. We'll meet those teams in 1992 [at the Olympics], and then we can measure our strengths and weaknesses again."
This win over Mexico left no doubt that the United States measures up as a power in the CONCACAF (North America, Central America, Caribbean) region. It was the second big U.S. win over a Mexican team in the past two months. The U.S. national team beat Mexico's national team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June, the first such win over Mexico in more than 30 years.
When the U.S. players started celebrating this triumph on the field at Pedro Marrero Stadium, it was more than some of the Mexican players could bear. According to U.S. goalie Brad Friedel, some of the Mexicans began punching U.S. players.
When backup goalie Kasey Keller came to the aid of a teammate, he was punched in the stomach by a Mexican and then decked by Augustin Valdez' sucker-punch.
"They just got upset at what had happened," said Claudio Reyna, who scored the first U.S. goal. "They were pretty confident they were going to beat us. What they did after the game was stupid and amateurish."
Mexico was in control of the game's first 30 minutes, going ahead 1-0 in the 16th minute when Salvador Mariscal back-headed a corner kick past Friedel.
Reyna, 17, from Springfield, N.J., equalized in the 33rd minute on a deft rebound conversion.
With four minutes left in the half, Reyna was put out of the game by Joaquin Hernandez's vicious tackle from behind, which drew a yellow (warning) card. Reyna's ankle was injured too badly for him to continue.
Reyna's replacement, Joe-Max Moore of UCLA, scored the winning goal on a 21-yard free kick two minutes into the overtime. It was a goal that may become nearly as famous as the one by Paul Caligiuri that beat Trinidad and Tobago to qualify the United States for the 1990 World Cup final round.
"I don't think it was quite the same, because that was for the World Cup," Moore said. "But this is a big goal, since it was the first victory for U.S. soccer in a tournament like this."