Christian_pulisic_-_asn_top_-_isi_-_usmnt_ovation_vs._panama_-_3-27-22_-_brad_smith Brad Smith/ISI Photos
USMNT analysis

Analysis & player ratings: Pulisic's hat trick has USMNT on verge of World Cup ticket

Christian Pulisic scored his first USMNT hat trick while Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola also tallied in a 5-1 win over Panama that now has the team on the verge of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. ASN's Brian Sciaretta watched the game twice and here are his thoughts and player ratings. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 28, 2022
12:50 AM

THE UNITED STATES IS on the verge of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar following a 5-1 win over Panama on Sunday night in Orlando. The win was generated by a hat trick from Christian Pulisic and the three points means that the U.S. team must only protect a +10 goal differential against Costa Rica on Wednesday to return to the sport’s biggest tournament.

Gregg Berhalter kept the majority of its starting lineup in-tact from the one that drew Mexico on Thursday. The only changes were Paul Arriola coming in for Tim Weah, Shaq Moore replacing DeAndre Yedlin, Jesus Ferreira replacing his former FC Dallas teammate Ricardo Pepi, and Luca de la Torre replacing Kellyn Acosta.

Panama actually played well in the opening minutes but the U.S. team grew into the game and gradually took control while playing with a high level of intensity.

The breakthrough came in the 17th minute off a corner. Nothing came from the ensuing corner but after protests from U.S. central defender Walker Zimmerman prompted a VAR review which showed that Panama captain Anibal Godoy, who is teammates with Zimmerman at Nashville SC, grabbed him around the neck and threw him to the ground. The U.S. was awarded a penalty which was converted by Christian Pulisic.

From there, the U.S. surged for the rest of the first half. Paul Arriola doubled the lead in the 23rd minute when he got on the end of a fantastic cross from Antonee Robinson.


Then in the 27th minute, Jesus Ferreira put the U.S. team up 3-0 and was assisted by Arriola.


The game became very physical for the remainder of the half. Pulisic picked up a yellow in one skirmish. Arriola was hit with an arm to the face, which was reviewed and denied a red from VAR. But just a few minutes later, deep into first half stoppage time, the U.S. team was awarded a penalty when Miles Robinson was fouled in the box by Godoy again on a set piece delivery. Again it was Pulisic and again, he did not miss for a 4-0 lead.


In the second half, Paul Arriola and Yunus Musah were removed. The U.S. team continued to push forward for more goals. In the 65th minute, Pulisic completed his hat trick on a splendid move in the box after another delivery from Antonee Robinson after a give-and-go with Luca de la Torre.


With the score 5-0, the U.S. team was able to see out a comfortable win with the only blemish coming in the 86th minute with Godoy getting on the end of a set piece delivery into the box and heading it past Steffen.

The 5-1 win gives the U.S. team a fantastic chance to qualify on Wednesday in San Jose, Costa Rica. Only a loss to Costa Rica which reverses a +10 goal differential will prevent the U.s. team from qualifying.

Here are some thoughts on the win.


Pulisic was dominant


In a big game with a team needing a win, it is critical that the best players show up and produce. In the past we’ve seen the best U.S. players deliver at critical times – Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are the best examples of showing up when needed. On Sunday, Christian Pulisic answered the call. Of course, Pulisic has many great moments already with the U.S. team, but last night was perhaps his most important. His hat trick helped secure a comfortable win over Panama and put the U.S. in terrific shape to qualify for Qatar.

“Obviously a huge result,” Pulisic said after the game. “We needed the three points bad to put us in a really good spot to qualify and we’re really happy with the performance. It feels great to get a hat trick, of course, my first one with the National Team, but more importantly just to help the team to win and put us in a good spot with one game left. Absolutely we can enjoy tonight, but the job’s not done yet. We have one more really important game and we’re taking it very seriously. We need to go in and get the job done.”

The goals obviously stand out but two of his goals were penalties earned by other players. For Pulisic, the goals overshadow perhaps the other aspects of his very strong game. He was constantly winning balls and advancing the play into dangerous positions.

For example on Arriola’s goal, Pulisic was able to get on the end of a tricky long ball from Walker Zimmerman, absorb a foul (where the referee played advantage to the U.S. team’s benefit) before Antonee Robinson sent in his cross for Arriola.

Pulisic was simply everywhere and there were many other instances that were more impressive than the two penalty conversions. His overall numbers were solid.

  • 71 minutes
  • 43 touches
  • 5 shots
  • 3 goals
  • 2 key passes
  • 14/19 passing
  • 4/7 ground duels won
  • 1/1 aerials
  • 2x fouled


“But there's a whole other bunch of things that come with it, and that's what you saw tonight,” Berhalter said. “His work rate, his defensive work rate, his duels his second balls, his challenges pasting, I mean dribbling, you name it - he did it tonight. He got the coaches man in the match for an obvious reason, but really strong performance by Christian.”

Following his second goal, Pulisic celebrated by doing “the Worm” upon a request from Mason Ogle – a young fan who has been battling cancer. It was just another memorable moment in what was a memorable game from the U.S. team.



Several players help their case


For the U.S. team, a lot of players put themselves into a strong position within the squad as World Cup qualifying looks set to be successfully completed this week. Aside from Pulisic and other mainstays like Antonee Robinson and Tyler Adams, here is a look at who had the best nights from players outside the core group and how it helps them.

Paul Arriola: The winger pool remains tight. Pulisic, Weah, Aaronson, and Reyna all seem like locks unless the latter two are shifted to the No. 10 position, where they predominantly play with their clubs. After them, you also have Jordan Morris. There are also potentially others like Konrad de la Fuente who is on the Marseille roster but who has struggled the past few months (along with reports questioning his work ethic). Arriola must continue to play well to make the team and his performance on Sunday was a step in the right direction and once again, he also continued to put in a smart defensive shift – which is common for him and something that always helps his case.

  • 45 minutes
  • 17 touches
  • 9/10 passing
  • 1 goal
  • 1 assist
  • 3 key passes
  • 1/2 ground duels won
  • 1/2 aerials won
  • 1x fouled

Jesus Ferreira: The FC Dallas forward was a menace on the field for the first 45 minutes. He scored a goal but was also active in making runs and pressing. In the second half, he fatigued and his effectiveness declined but his first half was enough to help him.

Luca de la Torre: The Heracles central midfielder had another strong start for the United States and was 27/33 in passing. His role in the build-up to Pulisic’s final goal in the second half was his most impressive spot of the night. He now looks to be firmly on the inside of the team with a good chance of playing real minutes at the World Cup.

Shaq Moore: It is going to be tough for Moore to make the World Cup team, but the Georgia native has responded well whenever asked. He started at the Gold Cup and helped the team win the title. His season at Tenerife hasn’t been great and he has lost ground with the U.S. team but his performance on Sunday helps him. Still, it’ll be tough for him to book a spot in Qatar if everyone is healthy. Sergino Dest, Reggie Cannon, and DeAndre Yedlin are all still ahead of him. Moore got the nod over players like Joe Scally (and possibly Bryan Reynolds, Kyle Duncan, and Aaron Herrera) due to experience but those players might earn minutes this summer. Still, Moore helped his case on Saturday even if it will be a tough climb.


Looking ahead to Wednesday


The United States national team will travel to San Jose to visit Costa Rica on Wednesday. Historically, the U.S. team has struggled in San Jose more than any other CONCACAF venue – including the Azteca.

There are some other factors at play. The U.S. team can afford a loss and still qualify. It simply must avoid a six-goal loss, which is doable. Costa Rica is a good team but not a great offensive team. They have four wins and a draw over their last five games but over the course of the Octagon, the Ticos have scored just 11 goals in 13 games. For them to try to push for six goals would be asking a lot. Their team is built on defense.

There is also another huge concern for Costa Rica. The Ticos currently have nine players sitting on yellow cards (Calvo, Campbell, Borges, Oviedo, Ruíz, Fuller, Venegas, Martínez, and Bennette – with the first five mentioned being typical starters).

When reading the FIFA rules, the Ticos players risk suspension for the single elimination intercontinental playoff should they pick up a yellow card on Wednesday and fail to win and overcome the goal differential. The Ticos, meanwhile, have assured themselves that they cannot fall out of the playoff position as no team below them in the Octagon can overtake them.

There is the chance that Ticos rest their starters to avoid suspension for the playoff since there are overwhelming odds that they play in the playoff – likely against New Zealand.

As for the U.S. team’s approach, the team wants to win for the first time ever in San Jose. It makes sense because qualifying for the World Cup with a 4-0 loss (or any loss) is nothing really to celebrate. Qualifying with a win on the road against Costa Rica is a reason to celebrate and another sign of momentum for the program.

But there are limits and Berhalter was quick to point out that some players who have logged major minutes the past few games will have to be monitored.

“I think the other side of it is the challenge,” Berhalter said of Wednesday. “This group has never won a qualifier in San Jose. We've never won in San Jose and Azteca. The guys are hungry for that, so we'll put a line up on the field that is is going to go for the win. I don't think the guys would want any less. I know the coaching staff doesn't want any less. So, we'll evaluate the health of guys. The guys that have major minutes, we'll be monitoring them and monitoring their regeneration and how they're coming out of that. But we want to put a team on the field that's going to compete.”

Seven players have started both of the team’s first two games this window: Zack Steffen, Miles Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, Antonee Robinson, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, and Christian Pulisic.

Pulisic and Adams were subbed out of each game but have both still played around 150 of the 180 possible minutes. The fact that they are in midseason but haven’t been overly taxed at the club level this season helps. Musah only played a half against Panama and should be in decent shape to start.

The biggest concerns for Wednesday in terms of minutes are Walker Zimmerman and Antonee Robinson who have both gone 180 minutes this window. The Championship is naturally taxing and that could affect Robinson while Zimmerman has played very hard both games in central defense.

Meanwhile, Ferreira only played in the Panama game so far but was cramping towards the end after covering a ton of ground over 90 minutes. It seems like Pepi or Pefok have the better chance of starting Wednesday.

The key is a defensive approach. It’d be hard to break up the central defense combination of Zimmerman and Miles Robinson. Tyler Adams has one of the best engines on the team and Kellyn Acosta should have enough energy after only subbing into the Panama game. Adams and Acosta both played well against Mexico.

If I were to guess, I would say the U.S. team starts: Steffen; Bello, Zimmerman, Robinson, Yedlin; Adams, Acosta, Musah; Arriola, Pepi, Pulisic.


Player Ratings

The Starting lineup


Zack Steffen: The goalkeeper looked a little rusty in the first half and mistimed a cross that resulted in a great chance for Panama. Rating: 5.0

Antonee Robinson: The Fulham left back was outstanding on the day as he regularly exploited space behind Panama’s defense and he finished with two fantastic assists. Rating: 8.0

Walker Zimmerman: The Nashville defender as very strong until the end. He drew the first penalty after he was fouled by Godoy. His long pass helped in the build-up to the second goal. In the end, however, he was partially responsible for marking Godoy on Panama’s consolation goal. Aside from that, defensively he was solid with his clearances, ball-winning, and aerials. His passing was more on point than it was against Mexico. Rating: 7.0

Miles Robinson: Like Zimmerman, he was strong defensively and drew a penalty before being subbed out in the 64th minute. It was a strong outing overall from the Atlanta United defender. Rating: 6.5

Shaq Moore: After joining the team late and in emergency basis, Moore put forth a positive defensive performance at right back in protecting his side and he also was part of the build-up to the third goal as he pushed forward.. Rating: 6.5

Tyler Adams: The defensive midfielder was a defensive rock that forced Panama to attack from wide areas as he clogged the middle. His 22/25 really helped with possession. Rating: 6.5

Luca de la Torre: The Heracles midfielder had another strong outing and really kept pressure on Panama’s defense with his slick passing and dribbling. Rating: 7.5

Yunus Musah: The Valencia midfielder was competent and solid in the first half before being subbed out at the half. Rating: 6.5

Paul Arriola: A goal, an assist, and just an overall solid performance in the first half before getting subbed out at halftime. The FC Dallas winger also took a physical beating. Rating: 7.5

Christian Pulisic: Converted two penalties, scored a delightful goal to cap a hat trick. But that was only part of the story as he was always leading the attacking and keeping Panama on their heels. Rating: 8.5 and Man of the Match

Jesus Ferreira: Solid first half, scored a goal, faded in the second half where he missed a few chances. It was still an outing that helped the team. Rating: 6.5


The Substitutes


Kellyn Acosta: The LAFC midfielder enjoyed a nice outing off the bench after coming on to start the second half. He only had 19 touches but completed 14/16 of his passes, was 3/3 in his tackles, and 3/3 in his ground duels won. Defensively and in possession, he did what was asked. Rating: 6.5

Gio Reyna: The Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder also came into the game in the second half and was sharp, completing 22/23 of his passes. He also had a great pass in the build-up to a chance that was missed by Ferreira. Rating: 6.5

Aaron Long: Came into the game in the 64th minute and picked up an unnecessary yellow card to give up a free kick. He was clearly rusty. Rating: 5.0

Gianluca Busio: The Venezia teenager played the final 20 minutes and was helpful in possession although his forays into the attacking third didn’t produce much. Rating: 5.5

Jordan Morris: Only had seven touches over the final 19 minutes as the U.S. team had taken its foot off the gas pedal after his arrival. Rating: 5.0

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