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USMNT & Christian Pulisic send a clear message to Mexico: Who is now the top dog of CONCACAF?

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CINCINNATI – After Christian Pulisic came into play in the 69th minute after slipping past defender Johan Vasquez and effectively being rolled over, and after headed Tim Weah’s perfect cross well out of reach of Memo Ochoa’s right arm, after which the ball landed online and gave the US men’s national team a leadership that they did not want to give up. The player, wearing the USA No. 10 jersey, strutted towards the fans in the corner at TQL Stadium and tried to lift the shirt to show a message.

“MAN IN THE MIRROR” was written on his undershirt. It was difficult for most people to see – but for those who could read it, it was impossible to escape the message.

No doubt he was ready for that moment.

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Pulisic and everyone on the USMNT program had seen the comments from an interview Ochoa gave earlier this week in which he stated, “Mexico has been the mirror in which they want to see themselves and reflect on what they want to copy.” It was an odd time to make such a statement as El Tri had lost to the Americans two games earlier that year.

MORE: CONCACAF qualifying scoring & schedule

Now, after a 2-0 win on Friday evening, the USA have beaten their arch-rivals three times for the first time in a calendar year: the first time in the final of the CONCACAF Nations League in June, the second in the region’s Gold Cup in August, and now in the World Cup qualification. There is no such thing as a “friendly” when the US and Mexico play soccer against each other, but all three have been in serious competition.

“It says a lot that we’ve come a long way in the past few years,” Pulisic told Sporting News. “Mexico have always been tough opponents for us and to win three in a row now is of course incredible. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to be complacent, time to think, ‘Oh, we’re the best.’ “

The USMNT have another qualifier underway in Jamaica next Tuesday and while they are now number one in qualifying at half time of the “Octagonal” they cannot afford to ponder their superiority over El Tri.

But we can.

And the evidence says the United States is now the King of CONCACAF: three straight wins for the first time in nine decades of its streak; two trophies for their championships at the two largest competitions in the region; a significant advantage since the US began to compete seriously in 1990, with 20 wins out of 14 losses and 12 games that ended in a draw.

“We talked about it; That was the news of yesterday, “said coach Gregg Berhalter to reporters. “We talked about how we thought they weren’t going to show us enough respect, and we had to earn the respect. And I think we went out and deserved it tonight. “

This result was particularly significant to Berhalter, given that his 2019 USMNT head coach appointment had been so heavily criticized and that many of those in charge of the ongoing “Berhalter-out” campaign preferred to hand US football to Atlanta United’s Tata Martino commit. Martino became the head coach of El Tri and has now been relegated to Berhalter three times in a row.

Berhalter built a lot of press in that game against Mexico and insisted that his players stick with it, expecting the American energy and panache to eventually wear down a more experienced Mexican team. It worked early on, but US midfielders – Tyler Adams in particular – played the ball carelessly for much of the first 45 minutes.

From the half-time break, however, the Americans quickly overwhelmed their opponents. After Pulisic drew 0-0 in the 74th minute, when El Tri should have equalized, they were unable to advance the ball over the center line for almost four minutes. Ball possession statistics showed Mexico got on the ball 51 percent of the time, but that doesn’t show that much time was spent trying not to escape their own ends.

MORE: How USMNT can qualify for the 2022 World Cup

“I thought about it a bit and thought about how well we play,” said Berhalter. “It would have been a shame if we hadn’t won the game.

“But I think when we got Christian it gave the team a boost. And it also scared Mexico a bit because they know its qualities. “

Weston McKennie scored the second goal for the USA, exchanging passes with reserve striker Jesus Ferreira at the head of the box before controlling the final pass after a lucky rebound and shooting a low shot past Ochoa inside the right post.

(Getty Images)

Ferreira had a big chance to add another late in the game, but like when Clint Dempsey missed a penalty eight years ago in Columbus, Ferreira shot the shot far to the left and kept the 2-0 score – the fans sang “dos a cero “For a while – that was the victory point for the USMNT five of the last six times they have played in a qualifier on US soil.

“It’s new to all of us,” said Weah, although he seemed at home in this rivalry. He did an amazing job, always being dangerous on the right sideline and putting pressure on Mexico’s defense. It might not have been better for center-back Walker Zimmerman, but it was probably bigger. The US coaches were looking for the ideal partner for young defender Miles Robinson, and Zimmerman played this game like swallowing every ball Mexico hoped would create danger and any outstanding questions about his performance answer at this level.

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“One of our worries was the air duels and with Miles and Walker back we feel pretty safe,” Berhalter told SN. “We won a number of headers on crosses, a number of headers on long balls, and it makes a huge difference when you have guys who are confident that they will win the ball.”

The United States and Mexico have played football against each other for 87 years, although the Americans only played nearly half that time, to be precise. Getting three major tournament wins in a row at this stage of USMNT development, with two teenagers and seven under 23 players in the line-up against Mexico, is an early indication of what this rivalry could face.

“I think it’s a new era now,” said Weah. “Mexico gave a lot of applause before the game. And hitting them silences them. “

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