CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – In an encounter contested more like a final rather than one between sides having already earned quarterfinal berths, Trinidad & Tobago (2-1-0, 7 points) and Mexico (1-2-0, 5 points) battled to a 4-4 draw in the last game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup’s group stage on Wednesday at Bank of America Stadium.
The result clinched the top spot in Group C for the Trinidadians, while Mexico was forced to settle for second place. They will next meet Panama and Costa Rica, respectively, on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, for places in the competition’s final four.
It looked like the Mexicans were on the way to a straightforward victory, owning a 2-0 lead shortly after the break.
Paul Aguilar struck for the first goal in the 32nd minute. A left-sided cross by Yasser Corona into the box found Carlos Vela, who back-headed the ball towards the far post. After breaking free from his marker, Aguilar somehow squeezed the ball between goalkeeper Marvin Phillip and the woodwork for his first career Gold Cup goal.
Six minutes into the second half, Vela etched his name onto the scoresheet with a brilliant individual effort. The 26-year-old dribbled into the left side of the box, cut the ball inside on defender Yohance Marshall to create separation and then took a right-footed shot that glanced off the near post, before crossing the line.
From that point, Kenwyne Jones grabbed hold of the game for Trinidad with a display strength, skill and cleverness that won’t soon be forgotten.
In the 55th minute, he dribbled 40 yards into the Mexican penalty area and drew defenders Francisco Javier Rodriguez and Diego Reyes towards him. Sensing an imbalance, Jones poked the ball left towards a racing Keron Cummings, who swooped in to finish with his left foot from nine-yards out.
Jones equalized three minutes later, making a brilliant off-the-ball run towards the left post, which allowed him to slot coolly Cordell Cato’s right-sided feed past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
The Caribbean runner-up kept up the pressure and took a 3-2 lead in the 67th minute with an incredibly well-worked play off a right-sided throw-in by Aubrey David, who connected with Jones in the box. As Jones was chesting the ball down, two Trinidadians made planned runs in different directions, seemingly causing confusion in the Mexican defense. As a result, Cummings was left unattended, allowing him to lash beyond Ochoa into the far-side netting with his left foot from 12 yards.
With Mexico trying to regroup, Jones hit right post after using his strength to position himself for a potentially game-ending attempt.
The six-time CONCACAF champion, though, buckled down and netted twice to regain the lead.
Andres Guardado equalized in the 87th minute, half-volleying a short clearance that took a slight deflection off the head of Meckeil Williams and eluded Phillip’s desperate stretch.
Mexico thought first place was theirs one minute into stoppage time, when Miguel Layun – positioned on the left — collected a ball punched in his direction by Phillip. The former Club America star dribbled into the box and sent what appeared to be a half shot-half pass in front of the net, where it deflected off Jones and into the goal.
Prior to anyone having time to catch their collective breaths, Trinidad was back on level terms. Joevin Jones’ in-swinging, left-side corner kick connected with Marshall, who headed home for the game’s final goal, completing the remarkable scoreline at 4-4.