USMNT defeats rival Mexico with a little magic and self-reflection

Emily Olsen
USA TODAY Sports+

CINCINNATI — It took self-reflection and a little magic for the United States men’s national team to beat Mexico 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier at TQL Stadium. 

‘Dos a Cero’ is somewhat of a mystical score in the USA-Mexico rivalry. The most crucial was the 2002 FIFA World Cup win that advanced the USMNT to the quarterfinals.

But Dos a Cero has now spun it’s spell in the United States' favor for five home World Cup qualifiers against Mexico the last two decades. 

So, it was only fitting midfielder Weston McKennie, who has a signature Harry Potter-like celebration, scored the second goal to etch another 2-0 win in the USMNT’s favor. 

In the 85th minute, World Cup qualifying debutant Jesús Ferreira passed a ball to McKennie in front of the net. With three long strides and a single hit, McKennie sent a ball low past the outstretched hands of Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. 

McKennie topped off the goal with his signature magic wand motion toward the descending camera.

“Against Mexico, you could argue it was one of our best games,” midfielder Christian Pulisic said after the match. “I was really proud of that performance.” 

The U.S. now has won three consecutive games against Mexico in a single calendar year. The last three-game win streak in the same timespan was accomplished by Mexico in 1937

“Respect” popped up in news conferences all week leading to the game, particularly after Ochoa sat down with TUDN and said "Mexico has been that mirror” in which the Americans want to “see themselves and reflect, what they want to copy.”

USMNT players said the previous Gold Cup and Nations League wins should have been enough to earn respect, but they’d have to show again they deserve it during World Cup qualifying. 

“I think we’ve earned respect the last couple times we’ve played them,” Pulisic said. “Just really happy we could come out on top again tonight.”

The objective star of the national team, Pulisic missed the last qualifying window due to a high ankle sprain sustained against Honduras in the first qualifying window. Pulisic had to miss games for both the national team and Chelsea. 

“It would have been a shame if we didn’t win the game,” coach Gregg Berhalter said. “When we brought in Christian, it gave the team a boost and it also put some fear in Mexico because they know his quality.”

Pulisic came on in the 69th minute and made an immediate impact, scoring on one of his first touches. Winger Tim Weah received a long ball from the USMNT defense and waited for Pulisic to make his late run into the box. At the right moment, Weah sent a cross for Pulisic to head past Ochoa. 

Pulisic sprinted to the corner in celebration, lifted his shirt and revealed the words “Man in the Mirror,” a reference to the comments made by Ochoa.

“I think you know the message,” Pulisic said when asked about the meaning of the t-shirt. “I don’t need to speak on too much. It’s not a big thing, I’m not trying to cause controversy.”

Weah later admitted he and defender DeAndre Yedlin were the ones who suggested a team equipment manager make the shirt. 

“Before the game, Mexico was talking a lot of smack, and beating them just shuts them up,” Weah said. “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 the world’s respect.”

Pulisic might have been the man wearing the shirt, but it was Weah who embodied the message.

Like Michael Jackson's 1988 pop hit, Weah "started with the man in the mirror."

After a poor performance in October during a 1-0 loss to Panama, Weah met with Berhalter one-on-one to go over how he could improve. A few days later against Costa Rica, he improved his movement and created the winning goal in the 2-1 victory.

"With Tim, it’s about mentality," Berhalter said. "When he has it in his mind and he is set on doing it, he can do it all day."

Once again, Weah improved his game and had a standout performance against Mexico. He soared on the right wing, gelling with Yedlin and Yunus Musah. He provided several dangerous crosses, including the one that lead to the opening goal.

“Coming from injury, I had to learn everything again. I had to refocus and get all the small details,” Weah said.

He said the game against Panama was tough for him as his first away game in a World Cup qualifying match. 

“In terms of my confidence, I am playing with my club team, so when I come here and play it is amazing,” Weah said. “To be with the boys, it is just super fun and we executed tonight.”

The U.S. men's national soccer team celebrates its victory over Mexico.

The team does not have long to celebrate beating their rival and subsequently pulling level on points at the top of the Octagonal — Mexico and the U.S. are tied with 14 points each.

Beating Mexico is nice. Earning another Dos a Cero is nice. But, there is still a World Cup to qualify for, which is the team’s ultimate goal.

The USMNT flies to Jamaica for the final match of this window Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 5 p.m. ET.

“For us, it is about how quickly we can get over this win,” Berhlater said. “By getting over it, I mean come back down to ground and get focused on what the next task is.

“We want to turn around and have a strong performance in Jamaica.”