Christian Pulisic: USMNT star kicks off victory by deking Panama keeper

Clyde Nash
October 8, 2017

Despite the oppositions' rudimentary tactics to kick and frustrate Pulisic, the 19-year old never wavered and was always a class above the rest of the field, teammates and opposition alike.

"I thought we were smart in how we went about it", Bradley said on Friday night. "They took advantage and they were superior and we were bad and they hit us hard".

If the U.S. lost to Trinidad & Tobago, it would still have a shot at finishing third ahead of Panama and Honduras. Our movement was good today.

"On a night where so much was on line, maybe everything, we played in a way from the get-go that gave no doubt as to who was going to win the game", USA captain Michael Bradley said. "Our top three attackers all had a good night". We've got one more game on Tuesday in Trinidad.

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Christian Pulisic and Jozy Altidore celebrate after the USA scored its second goal against Panama. It would be the ideal time to do it-and seal a berth in World Cup 2018 on a high note.

Provided Panama manage to register a win against the U.S. and Honduras lose against Costa Rica, then they are assured of making their World Cup debut in Russian Federation next summer. Jozy Altidore and Christian Pulisic led the way in the romp, with Altidore bagging a brace and delivering an assist while Pulisic scored one goal and set up another.

Whatever the US opts to do, players know they will be in for some kind of fight on the road. "Anytime they picked up the ball, it was either a yellow-card foul or some sort of breakaway".

"We've had a great year despite what some of you people think", Arena said in the postgame press conference, his wry smile only slightly masking what was likely some true annoyance. A loss or a draw would have forced the US team, under the best-case scenario, into a two-game playoff against another country that had also failed to automatically qualify. At the end of the day, the players have to go out and do it ... I know he's a young kid. "Every time I play with him, you can see he keeps improving every game".

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Altidore gave the US a critical third goal before halftime, converting a penalty earned by fellow forward Bobby Wood. Wood is at his best when he's stretching defenses, as he did often on Friday, with Altidore more focused on holding up balls underneath and laying them off for Pulisic. Considering the weakness this defense has shown in qualifying and the penchant the USA has shown to seize up in front of goal, this team would be lost without his occasional but increasingly frequent spurts of creative genius and attacking verve. But he finally got his due with a goal in the 63th minute to give the match its final 4-0 score. He knows where everyone is. A bit of cheeky footwork played him around the defender and put him in great position for a cross.

The Americans continued to push forward quickly on the break after halftime, even after USA head coach Bruce Arena removed Pulisic from the game in the 56th minute. "I got kicked a few times, but I'll be fine", he said.

While Pulisic's central role seems cemented, some other areas of the Americans' game still need some sharpening. That's the way it is. It doesn't look like anything is going to change. "We all felt it and felt a big responsibility for the team and for our country". A cynical challenge from New York Red Bull defender Michael Murillo damaged Pulisic's right calf.

He had done enough, though, to almost push his team over the qualifying line. The Americans dropped to fourth, which earns a playoff next month against Australia or Syria, and were in danger of finishing fifth and missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Failure to advance to Russian Federation would amount to a humiliating setback for the US men's soccer program, which still badly lags that of the sport's élite countries in Europe and South America. "We've come a long way and we're well-positioned to hopefully qualify for Russian Federation". So we feel good about that. "So for us, the job is on Tuesday to get a result".

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On Tuesday, they hope, it will be.

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