Five years ago, the streak ended. Friday the refrain was back, louder and more pronounced than ever, pulsating through the capacity crowd of 26,000 on a cold, wet night.
The other tune — seemingly random but tied to a quote from Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the buildup to the massive match — was Michael Jackson’s 1988 hit, “Man in the Mirror.”
Ochoa had told TUDN, a Spanish-language TV network, that Mexico was “that mirror in which [the United States wants] to see themselves and reflect, what they want to copy.”
Even after defeating their nemesis twice in summer tournament finals, even after being dead even in head-to-head World Cup qualifiers over almost 25 years, the U.S. players said they did not feel Mexico respected them.
So after shattering a scoreless deadlock in the 74th minute, Christian Pulisic lifted his jersey to display a T-shirt with a message: “Man in the Mirror.”
After the match, the song boomed over the stadium speakers.
Pulisic said the message was “just an idea that came into my head.”
Pressed on it, he added, “I think you guys [in the media] know the message. It’s not a big thing I am trying to cause controversy.”
He paused and deadpanned, “I actually wrote it in a mirror. I’m kidding. Someone did it for me.”
Winger Tim Weah said he and defender DeAndre Yedlin came up with the idea and asked the support staff to create the T-shirt for Pulisic.
“It’s just to send a message, you know?” Weah said. “It’s a new era now. Before the game, Mexico was talking a lot of smack, and beating them just shuts them up. We have to continue to win games and continue to beat them. That’s the only way we are going to earn their respect and earn the world’s respect.”
The idea to play the song over the public-address system, a U.S. Soccer Federation spokesman said, was unrelated to Pulisic’s T-shirt. The operations staff, the spokesman said, was unaware of the players’ plans, and vice versa.
U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter said, “We talked about how we didn’t think they gave us enough respect and we had to go out and earn it. We went out and earned it.”
The Americans got better as the match wore on, building momentum late in the first half and controlling the second with a performance as good as they’ve produced in the long rivalry with the region’s other power.
The reward was first place at the midway point of Concacaf’s eight-nation competition for three automatic berths in next winter’s World Cup in Qatar. The United States and Mexico are 4-1-2 apiece but the Americans are ahead in the first tiebreaker: goal differential.
“It was our game to lose, it felt like,” said Pulisic, who scored five minutes after entering as a substitute. The Chelsea attacker was held out of the starting lineup because he has not fully regained fitness and form following a two-month injury layoff. His club coach, Thomas Tuchel, said this week he hoped Berhalter wouldn’t push Pulisic too much.
Pulisic seems likely to come off the bench again Tuesday in Jamaica.
Pulisic’s entrance added another dangerous layer to an attack that was humming, albeit without a goal. Stationed on the left wing, Pulisic made a run into the six-yard box as Weah created havoc on the right side. Pulisic beat defender Johan Vásquez to Weah’s cross and headed it into the net for his 17th international goal.
During four days of training camp, Berhalter and the staff had tried to project what Pulisic could offer over the two matches. He was certainly not ready to start Friday, but after making two brief appearances for Chelsea the previous 10 days, Berhalter knew he could contribute in some capacity.
“Definitely part of the plan was thinking how much he could play at the high intensity we needed in this game,” Berhalter said. Pulisic entered in the 69th minute and logged the most minutes since getting hurt in Honduras in early September.
“I was ready to come in at any point in that second half,” he said. “I was happy I was able to come on and make a difference. You can’t argue with the timing. It was perfect.”
Without Pulisic, the team was just fine, though it took him to find the net. Weah was terrific most of the night creating on the wing. After some sloppy moments in the first half, the midfield of McKennie, Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah was inventive and in rhythm.
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen made two superb saves in the first half, justifying Berhalter’s decision to start him for the second consecutive qualifier after Matt Turner started the first five.
There were two downers: McKennie and center back Miles Robinson, the team’s best defender this year, will miss the Jamaica match. McKennie received his second yellow card of the tournament and Robinson was red-carded in the 89th minute after getting his second yellow of the game.
Berhalter said he is considering roster reinforcements before the flight to Jamaica on Sunday.
Chris Richards and Mark McKenzie are the candidates to replace Robinson, while Cristian Roldan, Gianluca Busio, Sebastian Lletget and Kellyn Acosta are in the midfield mix.
A victory or draw Tuesday against Jamaica (1-3-3) would leave the United States in prime position entering the winter qualifiers against El Salvador (1-3-3) and Honduras (0-4-3) at home and Canada (3-0-4) on the road.
“We’ve come a long way in the last couple years,” Pulisic said, reflecting on the program’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, which ended a streak of seven consecutive appearances.
“To now win three in a row [against Mexico this year] is amazing, but it’s not the time to be complacent. Now it’s Jamaica. Focus on Jamaica. It’s just about keep going and we want to continue to prove what this team is about and hopefully start to show the world what this national team is capable of.”
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