November 13, 2021


Mexico's experienced squad displays a worrying lack of intensity in another loss to U.S. (Felipe Cardenas. 11/13/21, The Athletic)

There's a word in Latin American soccer that describes a player who always seems to punish their opponents: verdugo. It has many translations, but the most fitting one in a sporting sense is "the tormentor." 

In 2021, Christian Pulisic has become Mexico's ultimate verdugo. His 74th minute goal was the first of two daggers that Mexico endured in a 2-0 loss in Cincinnati, and it came five months after his extra time penalty kick dealt El Tri the first of three straight losses to their bitter regional rivals. 

Such a record against the U.S. in a calendar year is unprecedented for Mexico in the modern era, and hasn't been done at all since 1937. [...]

Perhaps one source of the U.S. intensity was comments made by Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa earlier in the week. Citing the success of Liga MX versus MLS, Mexico's Confederations Cup win in 1999 and the fact that Mexico has played in more World Cups than the U.S., Ochoa told TUDN, "Mexico is the mirror in which the United States wants to see itself."

Petty or not, Ochoa's comments motivated the U.S. team and its fans. Ochoa's every touch was jeered on Friday night. A reference to his mirror analogy was emblazoned on a t-shirt that Pulisic displayed after scoring his goal. Michael Jackson's 1988 hit "Man in the Mirror" was played on the TQL Stadium loudspeakers after the final whistle. The USMNT went all in on Ochoa's comments and it provided the edge they needed to win the game.

Tim Weah, who assisted Pulisic for the first goal of the night, revealed the origin of the shirt that will now highlight a new chapter of gamesmanship in the USMNT-Mexico rivalry. 

"Me and DeAndre (Yedlin) had the kit guys make the shirt," Weah told reporters. "It's just to send a message, you know. 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. 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."

The really frightening aspect for Mexico has to be the youth of the squads that have beaten them in these three games.  This is a program aimed at contending in 2026, when the World Cup is here.  This cycle is restorative and developmental: competing this well this early is gravy. 

Tim Weah's excellent performance against Mexico typifies what makes this young USMNT special (Paul Tenorio, 11/13/21, The Athletic)

These players believe they belong at the top of CONCACAF. They believe they've more than done enough to earn the respect of their regional rivals -- three wins in as many matches against Mexico this year proves that -- and they aren't afraid to say it, with their play or into a microphone.

"It's a new era now," Weah said in the postgame press conference. "Before the game, Mexico was talking a lot of smack. Beating them just shuts them up. We have to continue to win games, continue to beat them. That's the only way we're going to earn respect. I think we're on a great path right now and the future is bright."

The way this U.S. team stepped up in the biggest of games was undoubtedly impressive, but the growth must continue in four days in Jamaica.

In the minutes after a decisive win against the Reggae Boyz in Austin, Texas last month, Berhalter talked about how important it would be for the U.S. to carry over the confidence on the road in Panama. They couldn't afford to think too highly of themselves, he said. They had to be ready to bring the same energy against Los Canaleros. That obviously failed to occur in a pretty big way. The U.S. came out flat in Panama City and deservedly lost 1-0.

The warnings were delivered again after the Mexico win. The U.S. will have to find a way to come down from the high of beating their regional rival for a third consecutive time in the last six months and be ready for yet another difficult road trip.

"We're definitely pleased with the way we're playing at the minute, but again I think we can improve," Pulisic said. "We're happy with where we're at, but throughout this qualifying process we still want to get a lot better."

The margin for error still remains thin in qualifying. The U.S. is in first on goal differential, but is also just three points ahead of fourth-place Panama. A result in Jamaica will be important, especially if the U.S. can manage another rare road win.

It should be easier to carry over some of the momentum from this game. With just two games in this window, the lineup will mostly be unchanged from Friday's win, though Weston McKennie and Miles Robinson will both miss out due to suspensions resulting from bookings against Mexico. Berhalter said the U.S. will likely call in reinforcements, but the absences of those two key starters will again highlight the youth of the squad. Two candidates to start in place of Robinson and McKennie against Jamaica: 21-year-old Chris Richards, who has four caps, and 19-year-old Gianluca Busio, who has seven.

Berhalter has been unafraid to thrust young, unproven players into the lineup to try to seize the moment. After Friday's win, that shouldn't change.

Posted by at November 13, 2021 7:43 AM