Santiago Gimenez scored the game-winner minutes after entering the match Sunday as Mexico beat Panama 1-0 to win a record-extending ninth CONCACAF Gold Cup crown.
The final of the regional championship for North and Central America and the Caribbean was a fast-paced physical affair between a Mexico team eager to move on from recent disappointments and a Panama side seeking a first Gold Cup crown in their third appearance in the finals.
Gimenez started on the bench in favor of Henry Martin and, with the match deadlocked, was brought on in the 85th minute.
Three minutes later the 22-year-old Feyenoord striker became an instant hero.
After Ivan Anderson's cross into the Mexico penalty area was blocked, Mexico's Orbelin Pineda came away with the ball and passed to Gimenez at midfield.
Gimenez raced into the penalty area, spinning away from one defender and beating another before slotting a left-footed shot past Panama goalkeeper Orlando Mosquera.
"It is indescribable," Gimenez said. "It is impressive how the group came together to move forward. I'm not saying it with words, it was seen with the title."
His fourth goal in 18 international appearances sparked frenzied celebrations among the largely pro-Mexico crowd of nearly 73,000 at SoFi Stadium, home of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams and one of the venues tabbed for the 2026 World Cup to be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Mexico added a ninth Gold Cup title to those it won in 1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2011, 2015 and 2019.
The United States own seven titles, but were stunningly eliminated by Panama in a penalty shootout during the semi-finals.
"We knew that we were playing to go down in the history of national soccer and opportunities must be seized," said Mexico's interim coach Jaime Lozano, who had coached Mexico to Olympic Bronze at the Tokyo Games in 2021 and was brought in for the Gold Cup tournament after Diego Cocca was sacked last month.
Cocca was fired after a disappointing Nations League campaign, which followed Mexico's failure to advance from the group stage at the World Cup in Qatar.
"We have said it from day one. Jaime understands very well what it means to represent Mexico, he understands the player very well, he gets the best out of each player and that is reflected on the field," goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who won a fifth Gold Cup title, said of Lozano.
Lozano himself refused to be drawn on whether he thought he'd earned the permanent job with a North American World.
"This decision is not up to me," he said. "I signed a contract for the Gold Cup. Mexicans sometimes do not believe much in the process, but even if we had lost the final today, I think we should evaluate many other things, not only the final result.
"If we trust in the process, the results will be immensely better."
Mexico thought they'd seized the lead in the 33rd minute when an attack launched by a long clearance from goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa ended with Martin skipping onto a cross from Luis Romo and firing a left-footed shot from the center of the box into Mosquera's net.
It took several minutes before a VAR review deemed Martin was offside.
Ten minutes later Mosquera kept the score level as he came up with two saves in rapid succession, one from Pineda and one from Martin.
Last drop of blood
Panama threatened in first-half injury time, but Anibal Godoy's shot went just wide of the left post.
Panama avoided a damaging reduction to 10 men in the 63rd minute when Harold Cummings was shown a second yellow card for tripping Pineda only for referee Said Martinez to quickly rescind it.
After Antuna tested Mosquera with a header in the 66th minute, Panama responded with a header from Jose Fajardo that Ochoa controlled.
Panama's Edgar Barcenas came close with a long-range shot in the 87th but Thomas Christiansen's Canalmen had no answer to Gimenez's strike.
"We gave everything we had in today's game, to the last drop of blood," Christiansen said. "The team died on its feet.
"Playing in front of 70,000 Mexicans in Los Angeles was not easy and the team gave their all at all times."