Mirrors can be tricky tools: You see yourself for who 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 did it mean that Christian Pulisic, cheering after his handsome and most important header goal for the US national team against Mexico, lifted his jersey and revealed the words “Man in the Mirror”, the man in the mirror? “It has to do with honour,” Pulisic said after the 2–0 win, which propelled the American team to first place in the qualifying group for the World Cup in Qatar.
There’s always a lot of talk before such an important, emotionally charged couple. Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa said before the game that his team was the mirror in which the Americans would look at each other. In sports, it can be seen as an insult when someone tells their equals that they are the only imitators who will lose. Some football fatalists, who can also be found in optimistic American sports, calculated that if the American team lost halfway through qualifying, they could slip to the spot where they were to participate in the tournament in Qatar. Will require a playoff duel.
The United States chose Cincinnati as the venue for the game, a city in the Midwest not particularly known for having a large number of Mexican-born residents. “We wanted spectators from the United States for this important game,” coach Greg Berhalter said openly. This means can be seen in the 69th minute of the game. Until then, it’s going to be an entertaining, hot, but not necessarily high-class game. Then Berhalter brought in a player who could make the difference in such doubles: 23-year-old former Dortmund former Dortmund Pulisic from Chelsea, who was out of action from the start due to a long-term injury. It was the moment that changed the mood in Cincinnati.
Pulisic, Adams, McKennie: the younger generation in Europe is catching on
The hit fell after just five minutes; Weston McKennie went 2-0 up just before the end. Now the United States are suddenly the group winners with 14 points, level with Mexico, three points ahead of the dreaded playoff spot. The man-in-the-mirror message for Mexico is: you better see for yourself! The United States had recently had two final victories (the Nations League and the Gold Cup) against Mexico: “The last two trophies clearly didn’t attract any respect,” Berhalter said: “Maybe they are a little bit of ours now. and respect.”
It’s a really interesting build that they’ve made in US football. For four decades, American football fans indulged in anticipated megalomania, claiming they could play a key role in a future World Cup. Before the 2014 World Cup, then-coach Jurgen Klinsmann was infamous for declaring victory unlikely. They have now changed the old slogan “I believe we will win” to the motto of “Only Ahead”: Only Forward. An understandable action when looking in the mirror after an embarrassingly missed 2018 World Cup in Russia.
He recognized three things in US football, which now sees itself as a startup – a company that has to establish itself first. First: You have to train talent differently in football than in other disciplines where schools, universities and private companies operate and use professional clubs in annual talent exchanges. Now there are youth academies like in Europe. For example, today’s Bundesliga professional Tyler Adams was promoted to the Red Bulls Academy in New York, at the age of 17 he made his debut in the US professional league MLS, in January 2019 he moved to RB Leipzig. Insights two and three are drawn from this: the domestic league is only a step forward for young Americans, with whom spectators in the United States may identify; It is because of them that they become interested in MLS and fill the stadium. AND: The really big talents have to go to Europe.
“We’ve never had as many talented players as we do now,” said coach Berhalter.
This seems completely normal for Europeans: a professional club trains a talent who first gathers professional experience into the third division and then becomes a Bundesliga player. The system was unheard of for the Americans – but now they are seeing the first fruits of their rethink: Pulisic plays in the Premier League for Chelsea. Tim Weah assists for a 1-0 win against Mexico in France at OSC Lille. 2-0 shooter Weston McKennie has a contract with Juventus Turin, Bayern Munich defender Chris Richards on loan to Hoffenheim. Goalkeeper Zach Steffen plays for Manchester City, full-back DeAndre Yedlin for Galatasaray Istanbul: these are all prestigious addresses in Europe.
Even more interesting, however, is the following fact: the average age of those on the field against Mexico from the start is 21.7 years; Pulisic actually increased the deduction to 23. The best American football players are young right now, and this gives the Americans hope not only to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, but that the team will be in full force in 2026. “We’ve never had such talented players as we do now,” says Berhalter: “The squad is extremely young, many will be at the height of their careers in five years.” For the first time ever, American football has not only individual talents, but in fact an entire generation of them.
America will host this World Cup together with Mexico and Canada in 2026. (Canada is currently third in the qualification group with 13 points). The goal is of course to outperform rivals and co-organizers. The message Christian Pulisic gave to the world on his shirt on Friday evening was this: You just want to see yourself – your own men in the mirror. There is still hope. They have maintained so much optimism that they will reach the 2026 final in New York.
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