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Pulisic, USA close to World Cup qualification thanks to spirited Captain America performance

ORLANDO, Fla. — Tyler Adams was the de facto captained the United States men’s national team this World Cup qualifying round, but when the United States players emerged from the tunnel on Sunday, Christian Pulisic was up front, armband neatly wrapped around his sleeve .

On the night the United States nearly clinched their place in this winter’s tournament, Pulisic – one of the few ties in the team that failed so spectacularly nearly five years ago – led from the start.

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Pulisic scored twice in the first half on penalties. He scored again just after the hour mark with the kind of ballet-like footwork in front of goal that American fans dream of. He had to be restrained by Gregg Berhalter when he tried to run at a crowd of Panamanian players during a minor scratch near the sideline. He was shown a yellow card for yelling at (and charging towards) the referee after the official whistled a fairly minor foul in midfield, even with USA fully in control.

In a game where the United States needed all their stars, Pulisic was a foaming fireball – exactly what Berhalter thought when he turned to Pulisic to be captain.

“I think because of the trip,” Berhalter said. “You have a guy who’s been there before. He was on the pitch when we didn’t qualify, and we were the ones who told him, it’s a new band, it’s a new team, and you’re a leader. We wanted to show that.

Nothing could ever recover what was lost in Trinidad in 2017, but this game and this performance, from a player whose ebbs and flows so often enliven the sentiment of American football in general, was such a sweet and special balm on the scar that one. could have imagined.

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“It was a huge honor to be captain tonight,” Pulisic said afterwards. “Absolutely, we can enjoy tonight, but the job is not done yet. We still have a really important game, and we take it very seriously.”

Pulisic’s restraint was understandable: there is still work to be done. Combining results from other matches this weekend means the United States can do no worse than fourth place in this CONCACAF qualifying table, which would put them in a playoff game. for a World Cup berth (If the USMNT goes that route, it will face the Solomon Islands or New Zealand in June for a berth in Qatar.) The USMNT will secure one of three automatic berths with a victory, a draw or even a loss that is no worse than a five-goal margin against Costa Rica on Wednesday in San Jose. And while history tells us the weirdest things can (and sometimes do ) to happen, even by Couva’s standards, that would be overkill.

Six years after making his national team debut as a 17-year-old wonderkid, Pulisic looks all but certain he will finally have the chance to represent the United States on the biggest stage in his sport. cycle to what it is now tells the story of this rebirth of the American football team.

At the time, he was a diamond in the rough, one of the only fresh lights among a group of veterans trying to push for one final lap in the arena. Now he’s a relative veteran (even at 23), surrounded by a slew of rising American talent that’s transformed the United States into the kind of team no one would want to face in a one-off game. Berhalter, of course , deserves praise for bringing this group together – which has perpetually taken out some of the youngest starting squads in U.S. World Cup qualifying history – and pushing it to the brink of its first goal. But the players have risen to the occasion throughout this cycle whenever they needed it most, and they did it again against Panama.

Pulisic was the engine Five years ago, in the game before the ill-fated trip to Trinidad, Pulisic scored eight minutes into a win over Panama here, running to the corner flag and sliding to his knees in celebration . at the same stadium he put the United States ahead in the 17th minute, coming forward coolly to take the penalty after Anibal Godoy fouled Walker Zimmerman in the box. his teammates as the crowded stadium pounded.

Six minutes later, Pulisic’s back pass led to Antonee Robinson’s perfect cross and Paul Arriola’s header to put the two Americans in front. A four-way passing streak led to Jesus Ferreira scoring a third before the half hour game. Pulisic then added his second from the spot in first half stoppage time, after which he asked his teammates for some space and dropped to the ground before try a (very, very) short interpretation of “The Worm” dance move.

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Christian Pulisic found the net three times in a 5-1 victory for the United States against Panama in the World Cup qualifiers.

The Panamanians were on their feet at the time, the stadium was chaotic and Pulisic’s face was full of joy and joy.

“I rate it as a solid 8,” Ferreira said of Pulisic’s attempt at ‘The Worm’. “I can’t give him a 10 because he hasn’t come back down.” , “I would probably give him a 5 just for flexibility. He could have been a little more flexible.”

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In truth, Pulisic’s last hat-trick goal was the real prize. A cushioned touch and spin around two defenders led to a whipped shot past the goalkeeper and reminded everyone that despite all the pressure on Pulisic – whether he’s playing for Chelsea or in the United – there is incredible talent behind it all. When fit, Pulisic’s sheer skill and drive are at the highest level.

With around 20 minutes remaining, Berhalter sent Gianluca Busio into midfield and the fourth official raised his board with Pulisic’s number 10 on it in red. Pulisic removed the captain’s armband and passed it to Tyler Adams, then began a slow trot towards the touchline as the applause – including from Jordan Morris, who was waiting to enter the game – poured in .

It was a standing ovation for a star. For a strength. For a player who may not be the day-to-day leader of the team, but still his face. In 2017, the tears streaming from Pulisic’s eyes after the final whistle in Trinidad rose to those of so many American fans.

Today, five years later, only the finish he has been dreaming of ever since remains.

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