Pulisic Drives U.S. to Vital Win

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US logoThere are clichés written and uttered for the type of performance Christian Pulisic put on Friday night in Orlando, Fla. To use them to describe him would be an insult.

With the ease of a butterfly and the tenacity of a wasp, Pulisic ran onto a Jozy Altidore flick-on, floated through the Panama defense, rounded goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and finished into the empty net. The United States national team’s penultimate World Cup qualifier was supposed to be 90 minutes of anxiety, Pulisic turned it into a party in just eight minutes.

That goal settled stomachs as the United States eased to a 4-0 victory in a crucial World Cup qualifier. The Americans now hold down the third and final automatic berth from CONCACAF and can clinch a trip to Russia next summer with a win Tuesday night at last-place Trinidad and Tobago.

When Pulisic first played for Borussia Dortmund against Real Madrid last month, the Spanish media dubbed him the American Luis Figo. Panama, which had boldly fielded an attacking 4-4-2 diamond in an attempt to secure their first World Cup berth, left themselves exposed on the counter and Pulisic led breakout after breakout dancing around defenders just as the Portuguese legend did a generation ago. Ten minutes after scoring, he floated into left wing, dribbled at a back peddling defense and drilled a cross into the six-yard box that Altidore redirected into an empty net.

Panama’s boldness made the first game a wide open affair and to its credit, the Canaleros asked plenty of questions of the American defense and nearly pulled a goal. But they left themselves too exposed and were forced to sub on Armando Cooper to shore up the midfield after just 26 minutes. The move backfired and Cooper gave away a penalty after Bobby Wood dribbled past three defenders forcing Cooper to pull him down inside the area. With coolness and swagger, Altidore paneka’d the penalty giving the U.S. a 3–0 lead at the half.

Butterflies are chased, wasps are swatted at and Pulisic was no different as the second half began. A cynical challenge from New York Red Bull defender Michael Murillo damaged Pulisic’s right calf. Murillo’s teammate for club and country, Fidel Escobar, slid in two-footed on Pulisic but side-stepped the tackle at the last moment. Before he could be further harmed, Coach Bruce Arena opted to sub Pulisic off. He’ll need him Tuesday evening against Trinidad &andTobago.

The Americans were comfortable for the second half and closed up shop keeping a dispirited Panama at arm’s length. For good measure, Bobby Wood capped off a rebound performance with a clinical turn and finish from inside the area on 63 minutes. The Americans were able to avoid the discipline report and will have all of their players available for their final World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.

With a win, the United States will qualify for their eighth consecutive World Cup.