If Friday night marked the last meaningful World Cup qualifier on American soil between the U.S. men’s national team and Mexico, then the Americans sent that part of the rivalry out in style.
The USMNT’s latest 2-0 win over El Tri marked its third straight win in the rivalry, all in 2021, marking the first time the Americans have ever been able to beat their main Concacaf rival three times in a year.
Maybe it was to spark some inspiration with his teammates, but the timing of Mexican goalkeeper Memo Ochoa’s remarks about his side being “The mirror in which the United States wants to see itself” in the run-up to Friday’s showdown could not have been more ill-advised in hindsight.
The Americans let their play do the talking in the response.
Christian Pulisic entered the game in the 69th and slammed a goal past Ochoa minutes later. In his celebration, he revealed an undershirt that read “Man in the mirror”. 21-year-old winger Tim Weah sent in the assist and revealed that the celebration was pre-planned when he spoke after the game.
“I knew he had it on. Me and DeAndre (Yedlin) the night before, asked the kit guys to make it for him. It’s just to send a message,” said Weah. “I think it’s a new era now. Before the game, Mexico was talking a lot of smack and you know, beating them just shuts them up, and we have to continue to win games and continue to beat them and that’s the only way we’re gonna earn their respect and earn the world’s respect,”
Pulisic didn’t elaborate on the bit when asked, but clearly, Ochoa’s remarks were the inspiration.
“I think you guys know the message. I don’t need to speak on it too much. It’s not a big thing I’m trying, to cause controversy. It was just an idea that came into my head,” Pulisic said. “I actually wrote it in a mirror. No, I’m kidding, somebody did it for me.”
Prior to 2021, the USMNT only took one win from its previous six matches with El Tri and for a while, Berhalter still hadn’t exactly convinced American fans that he would produce a surefire World Cup qualifying bid while overseeing the last three matches of that span. Now, the USMNT is sitting atop the Concacaf octagonal at the midway point.
“We fiercely dislike Mexico’s soccer team … we’re fierce competitors and we want to win every time we’re on the field,” Berhalter said. “Afterward you shake hands and move on. We have a lot of respect for them, they’re a great team, and I’m sure they’ll qualify for the World Cup.
From here, Berhalter will look to stick the landing by seeing out the second half of the Octagonal with a strong finish. The USMNT still has some tough contests left to play, including trips to Canada and Mexico, but Friday’s win reinforced the message sent with the summer’s tournament wins over Mexico that the Americans are now the team to beat in Concacaf.