USA beat Mexico and then rubbed it in

CINCINNATI – Michael Jackson’s 1988 song “Man in the Mirror” – a classic tune, but no one would have thought of a tumultuous match in the sports arena – reverberated through the stadium’s loudspeakers. on Friday night as the United States men’s soccer team rolled and embraced happily in the field stadium.

Less than half an hour earlier, Christian Pulisic dashed into the touchline to celebrate the Americans’ first goal in a 2-0 win over Mexico, lifting the front of his No 10 shirt to reveal the same cluster the word, “Man in the Mirror,” was scrawled in permanent ink on his white bra.

At the time, even well-informed American football fans might be scratching their heads at the references, struggling to understand exactly what was going on.

Welcome to the fiercely competitive rabbit hole, great fun and non-stop competition between the soccer teams of the USA and Mexico.

Hostile Neighbors’ World Cup Friday night’s qualifying match – a crucial one, with three points and first place in the standings up for grabs – had all the hallmarks of a classic match: two tricky goals, two turns, a red card and multiple instances of border mockery wrapped in layers of allusions.

“We absolutely don’t like the Mexican football team,” USA coach Gregg Berhalter later said, “and we were fierce competitors, and we wanted to win every time we were present. on the field.”

To understand the Michael Jackson song and the homemade shirt and the general atmosphere of complacency among Americans after the game, one has to go back to Tuesday, when Guillermo Ochoa, the Mexico goalkeeper, suggested in an interview. asked the United States to look in the mirror and hope to meet Mexico, seemingly implying that the Americans wanted to act as a team in their rival’s image.

On the Richter scale of sports trash talk, comments are barely registered. But America’s youth team, succeeded in building an identity through the first half of the 14-match qualifying tournament for World Cup 2022, seems to be happy to run with them anyway, to use them as additional fuel.

The first was the careless reply from Berhalter during his press conference the day before the game. He quipped that the Americans’ two victories over Mexico earlier this year were not enough to win Mexico’s respect. His team will have to do more work on Friday, he said. (American fans also booed Ochoa every time he touched the ball on Friday night.)

Then there is the reaction of the players on the field. The teams battled through a tense first half, with goalkeeper Zack Steffen making two stunning saves to keep the Americans at peace. Then everything – the attacks of the teams, the emotions of the players – boiled over in the second.

In the latter part of two scuffles on the pitch during the game, Mexico defender Luis Rodriguez threatened to grab Brendan Aaronson’s face from behind, sparking a long and ugly string of arguments between players from both teams. . As his teammates jostled each other and when 3 yellow cards were received, Pulisic prepared to come on as a substitute. When he did, roughness gave way to sublimation.

In the 74th minute, striker Timothy Weah received the ball on the right and calculated to make a dangerous cut close to the penalty area, coming out from the gap. After crafting it, he unleashed a perfect one-inch cross toward the mouth of the goal, where Pulisic headed home Ochoa’s net to give the United States a 1-0 lead.

It was Pulisic’s first touchdown in a game for the United States since September, when he sprained his high ankle during a qualifying game in Honduras. As the crowd of 26,000 ticket sellers raged, Pulisic stopped to display his “Man in the Mirror” shirt before being disturbed by his teammates.

He then shyly brushed aside questions about his shirt, treating the episode as a little joke.

“I think you guys know the message,” he said. “I don’t need to talk about it too much. It’s not a big thing. ”

Weah is much happier to be cleared up. He said the night before the game, he and defender DeAndre Yedlin asked one of the team’s staff to draw a shirt for Pulisic to wear during the game.

He paints the prank as a matter of pride.

“Before the game, Mexico talked a lot about tackles, and beating them would shut them down,” Weah said. “We have to keep winning games and keep beating them, and that’s the only way we’ll win their respect.”

After Pulisic’s goal, the Americans pressed for a second. When Weston McKennie delivered it at 85 minutes, he was reminded of the lines “Dos a Cero!” – a reference to a famous repeating scoreline between teams – from the stands.

And after the final whistle blew, the team’s staff attempted to play “Man in the Mirror” over loudspeakers to accompany the team’s post-match celebrations such as an apple final. violent.

It was an all-out victory for the Americans, who overcame Mexico 18-8 and it pulled the United States into a point draw with their arch-rival. at the top of the leaderboard seven more games to go. The top three finishers in the group automatically qualify for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

But more than points, young and inexperienced American players can derive more intangible benefits from experience: a little trivia, a few hidden jokes, a night of fun and excitement. Revenge is perceived – sports teams stick together much less.

“We’ve talked about how we think they don’t think they’ve given us enough respect and we have to go out and earn that,” Berhalter said. “And I think we went out and earned it today.” USA beat Mexico and then rubbed it in

Dustin Huang

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