Christian Pulisic Starts, and Stars, as U.S. Moves to Hex
September 06, 2016
YES, THE UNITED STATES clinched a berth in the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying Tuesday night in Jacksonville, Fla. But the 4-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago will almost certainly be remembered as Christian Pulisic's coming-out party for the U.S. rather than for any team achievement.
The Borussia Dortmund attacker made his first-ever start for the Stars and Stripes, supplanting Jozy Altidore as the youngest Yank to get the nod for the senior team in a World Cup qualifier. Based on Pulisic's sparkling performance in the 4-0 victory, he will be getting 90 minutes on a regular basis from now on.
Pulisic proved he deserved the start from the start, creating the first scoring chance of the match in the eighth minute.
It wasn't particularly special: Pulisic dribbled in to a dangerous space at the edge of the box, looked around, sized up the situation, and blasted a right-footed shot toward goal. The shot deflected off a Trinidad & Tobago defender and forced goalkeeper Marvin Phillip to sprawl to his right to make the save.
Nothing else of consequence happened until the 32nd minute of this occassionally dull match, when Pulisic nearly scored again.
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On the play, Jozy Altidore did his bullying best to fight through a defender on the right flank and then pushed the ball hopefully into the center of the penalty area. Bobby Wood laid out to try to tap it home but the ball was beyond his reach. And then, like a bolt out of the blue, Pulisic pounced on the loose ball and sent it toward goal. His shot bounced off the near post, flew across the goal line to hit the far post, and then was cleared out of danger.
As these half-chances fell a bit short, Trinidad & Tobago reminded U.S. supporters that they were no pushovers. St. Vincent and the Grenadines might have been happy to make the semifinals of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but T&T, on top of the group at the start of the day and already through to the Hex, was angling to finish first.
A well-organized U.S. backline featuring Omar Gonzalez and Steve Birnbaum made sure that the visitors never got too close to Tim Howard's goal, however, and Geoff Cameron at right back and Fabian Johnson on the left made for an impressive defensive quartet.
Just before the half, with the game and the crowd easing into a lull, the Yanks scored late to take the lead.
It wasn't a convincing strike. On the play, Fabian Johnson dribbled into the penalty area and passed to Pulisic who tried to cross to Altidore on a far-post run. The ball was intercepted and fell to a T&T defender who attemped to clear but the ball ricocheted straight to Sacha Kljestan, who recovered quickly and poked a slow roller into the far corner with his left foot.
Yes, the Yanks were a goal up at the end of the first half, but they were anything but impressive. Michael Bradley looked like a shadow of his former AS Roma self. Alejandro Bedoya ran hard but never seemed to put the ball into dangerous spots. Wood and Altidore did not look like a well-matched pair up top.
The Yanks didn't look much better in the opening minutes of the second half, but created an intriguing chance in the 53rd minute thanks to—yep—Pulisic.
Upon receiving a pass in the U.S. half, the teen made a 40-yard run through the heart of the T&T defense. He placed a ball wide to Bedoya, who found Altidore with a simple pass, and then, just yards from goal, the Toronto FC forward blasted a shot directly at Philip.
It was a great chance that was completely wasted by an impatient striker.
Undaunted, Pulisic created another chance a few minutes later, dribbling down the left flank, breaking free of his defender with a sneaky move, and delivering a perfect cross across the face of goal. But nobody made a far-post run, so the ball rolled harmlessly away.
The Yanks' second goal game just before the hour mark, courtesy of a good piece of footwork from Altidore. Johnson made the entry pass but the 26-year-old New Jersey native did the heavy lifting, creating space and then hitting a soft-but-well-placed shot into the back of the net.
The two-goal cushion changed everything. Trinidad and Tobago knew it was going to lose, and the Yanks played like they had nothing to lose. And sure, enough, Pulisic had more in store for the Caribbeans.
Working down the left flank as he had done all night, the Pennsylvania native broke free of his by-now-traumatized marker and placed yet another wonderful pass across the goal mouth. This time Altidore got on the ball at the far post and placed it into the back of the goal to give the U.S. an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola, and Caleb Stanko came on to see out the win, and Arriola confirmed his status as a good luck charm, pouncing on a rebound (of a Pulisic strike) to score his second goal for the senior side and put the U.S. up by four.
The game would end that way, and Jurgen Klinsmann's men could look forward to the daunting task of CONCACAF's final round of World Cup qualification—the Hex—with the wind at is back and a precocious playmaker in the heart of the attack.
After playing two games in four days, Pulisic and the Yanks finished with 10 goals scored and none conceded. The squad finished top of its group and will host Mexico in the first match of the Hexagonal on November 11.