With both teams already qualified for the Olympics in London, Monday night’s CONCACAF Olympic tournament final was merely a matter of formality and pride. But when Miguel Angel Ponce scored late in overtime, lifting his team to a 2-1 victory, the overwhelmingly pro-Mexico crowd at Livestrong Sporting Park exalted with joy and relief.
“We are very happy about it,” Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena said through a translator. “We were able to beat a good team like Honduras. We were able to make a lot of people happy here in Kansas City. A lot of Mexican folks who showed up for the game were made very happy.”
Before Ponce’s goal, though, those fans were steeling themselves for a penalty-kick shootout.
“We didn’t want the game to go to penalties,” the American-born left winger said. “We knew we could win it on the field, playing, and that’s what we did.”
Ponce’s clutch score made up for his close miss in the 77th minute, when he drove the ball just outside the left post with the score knotted at 1. He slipped behind the Honduras back line in the 116th minute, corralled Javier Cortes’ free kick and buried it for the game winner.
“It was just me,” he said. “I was all alone and I scored.”
For much of the match, though, Honduras appeared poised to pull off the upset.
Mexico, which won 3-0 in the group stage matchup between the two sides, fell behind early in the second half when Johnny Leveron headed home Alexander Lopez’s corner kick. And for the first three-quarters of regulation, the Pan American Games champions found themselves frustrated by Honduras’ strategy of collapsing into the penalty area around forward Alan Pulido.
But Pulido, who had a hat trick in Mexico’s group stage win, turned that defensive attention into a heady assist on Marco Fabian’s 75th-minute equalizer.
Pulido took the ball with his back to goal, waited until he was surrounded by white shirts and then passed back outside the area to Fabian. Fabian took one touch and fired into the goal from 22 yards.
“We were playing good,” said Honduras and D.C. United midfielder Andy Najar. “Then we lost concentration, and they scored.”
Honduras, playing its second straight overtime game after outlasting El Salvador 3-2 on Saturday, had to play the 30 extra minutes short-handed after defender Luis Garrido was shown his second yellow card for a foul in second-half stoppage time. The team finished with nine after Wilmer Crisanto was issued his second yellow in the 119th minute.