It wasn’t enough for U.S. national team star Christian Pulisic to score against Mexico. He also wanted to send a clear message to the USA’s archrival. It was written in black marker on the white shirt under his U.S. jersey, and he revealed it for all to see after scoring the USA’s breakthrough goal in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win in Cincinnati on Friday night.
Pulisic scored just five minutes after entering the match, and after heading home a Tim Weah cross to put the USA ahead to stay, he lifted his shirt to show the handwritten words “Man in the Mirror.” They were in reference to a comment made by Mexico captain Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa in the lead-up to the match that became bulletin-board material for the Americans.
“In Gold Cups, Mexico is right there, in standings and FIFA competitions Mexico has been there,” Ochoa told TUDN in comments, translated from Spanish, about the rivalry. “We have a Confederations Cup, I believe that Mexico has the most appearances in the World Cup. So it’s a rivalry, and Mexico has been the mirror in which [the USA] wants to see itself and reflect itself and wants to copy.”
MORE: CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings & schedule
After the match, Pulisic, who isn’t known for being the type to stir up controversy with his comments or on-field actions, tried to downplay the incident with a little humor.
“I think you guys know the message. I don’t need to speak on it too much,” Pulisic said. “It’s not a big thing that I’m trying to cause controversy. It was just an idea that came in the head and I actually wrote it in a mirror — no, I’m kidding. Someone did it for me.”
“I knew he had it on,” said Weah. “Me and DeAndre [Yedlin] the night before asked the kit guys to make it for him.
“It’s just to send a message. I think it’s a new era now. Before the game Mexico was talking a lot of smack, and beating them just shuts them up. And we have to continue to win games and continue to beat them. That’s the only way we’re going to earn their respect and the world’s respect. We’re on a great path right now and the future is bright.”
MORE: How the USA beat Mexico for the third time in a row in ’21
The win over Mexico was the USA’s third head-to-head competitive triumph in a calendar year, the first time in its history that the USA had accomplished the feat. The Americans came out on top in the Nations League final and the Gold Cup final during the summer before blanking El Tri in Cincinnati. The latest result allowed the USA to overtake Mexico at the top of the qualifying standings. The rivals’ next scheduled match is a qualifier in Mexico on March 24, 2022.
It was clear just how much Ochoa’s comments had bothered the USA when manager Gregg Berhalter referenced them in his pregame press conference:
“When you hear things coming out from their camp, that we want to be [Mexico], where when we’re looking at some mirror, that’s Mexico and we want to see ourselves or something like that, it shows that we have a long way to go to get the respect of Mexico,” he said. “The two victories in the summer, I guess, didn’t do a lot to get that. We’re going to have to do it with our play on the field.”
MORE: The path for the USA to qualify for the World Cup
Berhalter wasn’t gloating postgame. He was also keen to move on from the mirror talk, and he had his own way of putting a bow on it:
“We talked about how we thought they didn’t give us enough respect and that we had to go out and earn it,” he said. “And I think we went out and earned it today.”