Mirrors can be tricky tools: you see yourself as you really are – unless the mirror is distorted. But you can also see who is standing next to you or perhaps behind you. So what does it mean that Christian Pulisic lifted his shirt cheering after his beautiful goal and above all with an important header for the US national team against Mexico and revealing the phrase “Man in the mirror”, the man in the mirror? “It’s about respect,” Pulisic said after the 2-0 win that propelled the US team to first place in the qualifying group for the World Cup in Qatar.
There is always a lot of talk before such important and emotionally loaded duels. Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa had said before the match that his team was the mirror in which the Americans would look at each other. In sports, it can be considered an insult when one tells his peers that they are just imitators who will lose. Some football advocates, who can also be found in upbeat American sports, have calculated that if the US team loses midway through the playoffs, it may slip into a place that requires a playoff duel for the tournament in Qatar.
The United States chose Cincinnati as the venue for this game, which is a city in the Midwest that is completely unknown to a large population of Mexican descent. “We wanted a pro-USA crowd for this important match,” said coach Greg Berhalter candidly. What that means can be seen in the 69th minute of the match. Until then, it was an attractive and hot game but not necessarily a high class game. Then Berhalter brought in the player who could make the difference in such duels: former Dortmund Christian Pulisic, 23, from Chelsea, who was not supposed to play from the start due to a long injury fracture. That was the moment that changed the mood in Cincinnati.
Pulisic, Adams, McKinney: The young generation in Europe has mastered it
The blow fell just five minutes later; Shortly before the end, Weston McKinney increased to 2-0. Now the USA has suddenly won the group with 14 points, tied with Mexico, and is three points ahead of the dreaded playoff area. The man in the mirror’s message to Mexico is: You’d better take a look! The United States recently had two final wins (the Nations League and Gold Cup), each against Mexico: “The last two cups seem to have attracted no respect,” Berhalter said, “maybe they respect us a little more now.”
It’s actually an interesting building that they built in American football. For four decades, American football fans have indulged in anticipatory megalomania and claimed that they could play an important role in a future World Cup. Before the 2014 World Cup, coach Jürgen Klinsmann was insulted for declaring victory unlikely. They have now changed the old mantra of “I think we will win” into a mantra of “Only Forward”: Just Forward. An understandable procedure when looking in the mirror after the embarrassing loss of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
They realized three things in American football, which now sees itself as a startup – a company that must first establish itself. First: you have to train talent in football differently than usual in other disciplines, where schools, universities and private companies take over and use professional clubs for the annual talent exchange. There are now youth academies like those in Europe. For example, the professional Bundesliga player, Tyler Adams, was promoted at the Red Bulls Academy in New York, at the age of 17, he made his debut in the MLS, in January 2019, he came to RB Leipzig. The second and third insights derive from this: the domestic league is merely a springboard for young Americans that viewers in the United States can learn about; Because of it they are interested in MLS and filling the stadiums. W: The really big talent should go to Europe.
“We’ve never had so many talented players like we do now,” said coach Berhalter.
It seems perfectly normal for Europeans: a professional club trains a talent who first gathers professional experience in the third division and then becomes a player in the Bundesliga. This system is unheard of for Americans – but they are now seeing the first fruits of a rethink: Pulisic is playing in the Premier League for Chelsea. Tim Weah, made in the 1-0 win over Mexico, in France at OSC Lille. 2-0 Weston McKinney on loan to Juventus Turin and defender Chris Richards from Bayern Munich on loan to Hoffenheim. Goalkeeper Zack Stephen plays for Manchester City, full-back Deandre Yadlin at Galatasaray Istanbul: these are all prestigious titles in Europe.
But what is more interesting is the following fact: the average age of those who participated in the field against Mexico from the start is 21.7 years. Pulisic actually raised the cut at 23. The best American footballers at the moment are youngsters, and this gives the Americans hope not only to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, but that this squad will be fully operational in 2026. “No We’ve never had so many talented players like we do now. The team is very young, and many of them will be at the height of their careers in five years.” For the first time, American football has not only individual talents, but an entire generation of them.
The United States will host the World Cup in 2026 along with Mexico and Canada. (Canada is currently third in the qualifying group with 13 points.) The goal, of course, is to do a better job than competitors and participating regulators. The message that Christian Pulisic had on his shirt for the world Friday night was: You just want to look at yourself – at your men in the mirror. There is still hope. They have maintained so much optimism that they will be in the 2026 final in New York.
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