Corruption scandals off the field, refereeing fiascos in both the quarterfinals and semis, all that already had given this CONCACAF Gold Cup its unsavory flavor. Until Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field. In the final, it was all about the soccer.
After taking advantage of the events that got its national team to the Linc, Mexico displayed its virtuosity, burying a beautiful first-half volley, then finding the net again immediately after halftime.
A third Mexican goal came in the 61st minute, when a blunder by a Jamaican defender had put the ball on a tee. This time, bad officiating had nothing to do with Mexico's victory, the final a decisive 3-1. The crowd of 68,930 was announced as the largest to see a soccer game in Philadelphia.
The day before, Mexico's coach, the demonstrative Miguel Herrera, had been asked what had to change for his squad in the Gold Cup final.
"You know what, to forget what we did in the last game," Herrera had said.
A reporter covering El Tri had seemed slightly offended by that answer. Just forget everything? The end justifies the means?
"I don't know about the people," Herrera said. "We are forgetting everything."
It had happened before. Mexico had a successful World Cup last year after needing the help of the United States to even qualify. On its game, this national team can play with any side in the world.
"Today, they had a wonderful, important success," Herrera said after the final. "We were very happy and relaxed."
Jamaica's coach had wanted to make it clear where the pressure was supposed to be going into the final. He referred to "Big Mexico" and "our little island."
Never mind that Winfried Schaefer is from Germany and that his Jamaican national soccer team had been maybe the steadiest of all the Gold Cup teams throughout the tournament.
"For me, this is not silver, this is gold," Schaefer said, holding up his medal after Sunday's game. "Nobody gave us a shot. . . . Mexico was a very, very good team, playing very good football."
Before halftime, Jamaica had its chances, unable to take advantage of a number of dangerous crosses. The Reggae Boyz also looked solid defensively, but on a cross in the 21st minute had veered toward dangerous attacker Jesus Corona. Outside of Corona, Mexican captain Andres Guardado was left open and the cross found his foot and his volley found the net. It was the first goal for Mexican from the run of play in 270 minutes.
Right after halftime, Corona got one of his own, perfectly placing a shot from just outside the penalty area in the 47th minute.
In the 61st, a Mexican cross found the foot of Jamaican defender Michael Hector but he couldn't control it. It dribbled away from him, and Mexico Oribe Peralta easily converted. Jamaica finally got on the scoreboard in the 80th minute when Darren Mattocks found the net.
The Reggae Boyz were a mix of players mostly in England and MLS, although their goalkeeper, Ryan Thompson, elevated to the top spot by injury, plays in this country's third-division USL for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. For all their fine play throughout the Gold Cup, second still is a best-ever finish in this tournament.
Mexico had an innocent but starring role in the semifinal and quarterfinal episodes that will go into the lore of this tournament, with referee calls that pushed Mexico past Costa Rica and then Panama - calls that replays showed were wrong - in the final minutes. The calls provided penalty kicks that got Mexico to the Linc and caused a stain on the Gold Cup itself.
The memory will always linger of the makeshift sign held up by Panama's players in their locker room last Wednesday right after the Mexico game. Prominent were the words CONCACAF LADRONES. (Thieves.) The sign also had the word CORRUPTOS.
Sunday night, the championship was won honestly. However they got to the Linc, Mexico left the place as the CONCACAF region's best soccer team, with a fall date with the United States on the horizon, a place in the prestigious Confederations Cup on the line. In that matchup, it will be the U.S. squad looking for redemption.