(REUTERS) - The United States' Christian Pulisic was on target in Friday's (Nov 12) 2-0 win over Mexico. But it was the message scrawled on his T-shirt that made headlines, as the winger responded to a pre-match jibe from their North American arch-rivals with one of his own.
The second-half substitute headed home a cross within five minutes of coming on, while Weston McKennie scored another as a young US team moved to the top of the Concacaf World Cup qualifying standings on goal difference.
Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa had said before the game that his team was the "mirror in which the United States wants to see itself". As soon as Pulisic put the home side ahead, he lifted his shirt to show the words "MAN IN THE MIRROR".
"I think you guys know the message, I don't need to speak on it too much. It's not a big thing, I'm not trying to cause a controversy, it was just an idea that came to my head," a smiling Pulisic told reporters.
"I actually wrote it in a mirror - no, I'm kidding. Somebody did it for me," he added as the news conference room erupted in laughter.
A fractious game, which involved a scuffle in the second half in a highly charged atmosphere in Cincinnati, spurred the hosts to score two late goals and beat Mexico for a third time this year.
The US team had beaten Mexico in the finals of the Nations League and Gold Cup earlier this year. American coach Gregg Berhalter had said they had a "long way to go to get the respect of Mexico" after hearing about their comments.
"I think we've earned respect the last couple of times we've played them," Pulisic said. "They understand what we're about, we understand what they're about - that's what makes a great rivalry.
"I'm just happy we could come out on top again tonight. We knew it's always going to be a good game against Mexico and to get three points gets us a lot closer to qualifying for the World Cup."
The US hold a two-goal advantage over Mexico halfway through the 14-game qualifying tournament.
Canada, who defeated Costa Rica 1-0, have 13 points, one back. Panama have 11 to round out the group's top four.
Costa Rica, Jamaica and El Salvador have six points with Honduras bottom on three. The top three teams will qualify for the Finals, while the fourth-placed team will advance to the inter-confederation play-offs
The US team are eager to qualify for next year's World Cup in Qatar and put behind them the humiliating loss suffered at the hands of Trinidad and Tobago four years ago that kept them from reaching the Finals in Russia.
"We're in a good spot now but we have a lot more games to play," Pulisic said. "This is just one step closer to getting to the World Cup."