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Homophobic chants force US-Mexico soccer match to end early in Las Vegas

Sergino Dest of the United States pushes Gerardo Arteaga of Mexico during the second half of a CONCACAF Nations League semifinals soccer match Thursday, June 15, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The United States men’s soccer team’s match against Mexico was cut short Thursday night by the referee after repeated homophobic chants could be heard from fans.

Four players were ejected in the game, which the U.S. won 3-0 for a spot Sunday in the CONCACAF Nations League final against Canada.

Christian Pulisic scored two goals and Ricardo Pepi scored one in a strong showing, but this game will be remembered much more for the ugliness.

Play was halted in the 90th minute because of the homophobic chants. When action resumed, 12 minutes of stoppage time were signaled but resumed chants caused Salvadoran referee Iván Barton to end the match in the eighth added minute.

FIFA fined Mexico 100,000 Swiss francs ($108,000) in January for anti-gay chants by fans at two games.

Americans Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest were ejected by Barton along with Mexicans César Montes and Gerardo Arteaga during the testy second half.

“These are rivalry games. These are derby games. Things like this happen across the world and in no way am I embarrassed,” B.J. Callaghan said about the ejections after his first game as U.S. interim coach. “It comes from a good place. They care about each other so much in that locker room that they’re standing up for each other. Sometimes does it have an issue where we take a red card? Yeah, but when you know where it comes from, you can accept it and it’s a learning lesson for us.

“In terms of the chant, I want to make it very clear first and foremost, for our beliefs and our culture, it has no place in the game. It has no place in our value system.”

As Callaghan coached the game on an interim basis, news broke that Gregg Berhalter had agreed to return as U.S. national team coach after being cleared in a domestic violence investigation. The U.S. Soccer Federation has since announced that Berhalter agreed to coach the team through the 2026 World Cup. He won’t take over until after CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Pulisic, the top American player, said last week the USSF should consider bringing Berhalter back.

After their ejections, McKennie and Dest are suspended for the final. Luca de la Torre and Joe Scally are possible replacements.

“It’s definitely a blow,” Tim Weah said. “It comes with the game. I know the red cards are definitely a bummer, but it happens. Aggressive match tonight.”

Striker Folarin Balogun made his debut after the 21-year-old decided to play for the U.S. over England and Nigeria.

“The boys told me it was going to be intense, but I’m definitely still shocked by the events,” said Balogun, who at one point was shoved to the field. “I was just on the floor because I was in pain, but when I looked up I just saw so many people around and I knew my teammates were just trying to defend me.”

Making his first start for club or country since April 15, Pulisic put the U.S. ahead in the 37th minute and doubled the lead in the 46th. He has 25 goals in 59 international appearances, including four goals against Mexico. Pepi scored in the 79th, five minutes after replacing Bologun.

With its first three-goal victory over Mexico in 23 years, the U.S. stretched its unbeaten streak against El Tri to six (three wins, three draws), matching the Americans’ longest, from 2011-15.

The U.S. went ahead when Gio Reyna poked the ball off Montes and then while prone, poked it forward off Jorge Sánchez. Pulisic burst behind the defenders, took a pair of touches and from the edge of the 6-yard box slotted the ball past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

McKennie started the move toward the second goal with a long pass down a flank to Weah, who crossed. A sprinting Pulisic got behind Israel Reyes and Sánchez, stabbing the ball in with his left foot from 6 yards.

Montes was given a straight red card in the 69th for kicking Balogun while the two were challenging. McKennie was given a red card two minutes later for placing a hand on Sánchez’s neck during the ensuing arguing and shoving.

Pepi scored his seventh international goal, receiving a pass from Dest, taking a touch and rounding Ochoa. Dest and Arteaga were sent off in the 86th for shoving each other.

“There was moments on both teams that we could have handled better,” Callaghan said.

Notes: Reyna, his hair dyed blonde, made his first start for club or country since March 27, also the last time Dest and goalkeeper Matt Turner had appeared in any match. … Canada beat Panama 2-0 in the opener on goals by Jonathan David in the 25th and Alphonso Davies in the 69th. Mexico and Panama meet in the third-place match.