Christian Pulisic reminded the world how he looks as a focal point as the easy Man of the Match in the United States men’s national team’s 2-0 defeat of Northern Ireland on Sunday.
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For USMNT fans, it will be just as welcome of a reminder given Pulisic’s absence from the set-up for seven-straight matches prior to Thursday afternoon’s 4-1 win over Jamaica.
No, the Norn Iron are not a power nor did they have anything near their best team on the field, but Pulisic was swarmed by defenders all day and still managed to be the friendly’s danger man.
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Frankly, he was dominant. I asked USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter what he liked about that visible hunger, even in a friendly. Berhalter hopes to see it again (and again (and again)).
“That’s the next level for Christian,” Berhalter said. “That type of performance all the time. When he does that the rest speaks for itself. I was really impressed with his performance and how he handled himself before, during, and after the game.”
ProSoccerTalk lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright then asked Pulisic about Berhalter’s comments.
“That’s where I want to be,” Pulisic said. “I want to help lead this team in whatever way that is, whether with the captain’s band or not. I want to be one of the hardest workers out there and lead by example. Hopefully guys will see that and do the same.”
And if history is any guide and that effort is matched across the board, with Pulisic driving play against CONCACAF teams, we’re about to be treated to something really special.
It’s so easy to forget about Pulisic’s early days with the USMNT because they came during a hectic World Cup qualification cycle that helped overshadow his individual stars shows. Remember, Pulisic’s the only one who scored in the ill-fated 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago loss in Couva, having scored and assisted in the 4-0 must-win over Panama four days earlier.
All-told, Pulisic scored seven goals with seven assists in his first 13 World Cup qualifiers. Of course there’s room to grow; Pulisic was kept off the board by Mexico and Costa Rica, matches in which the U.S. took only one point.
But the difference between the defenders Pulisic is facing in club play (and training) for Chelsea, where the Blues remain in the Champions League and are in the Premier League’s top four mix, and CONCACAF are glaring.
USMNT fans didn’t get to see Pulisic test Jonny Evans of Leicester City and Jamal Lewis of Newcastle United. But he did everything you’d expect against a team of Football League Championship and Scottish Premiership players.
“He got the coaches’ Man of the Match and U.S. Soccer Insider’s Man of the Match,” Berhalter said. “I say forget about all the great stuff he does on the ball, he just competed today. When he’s in that type of mode, it’s relentless. He can unbalance the team and to me he had an overall really strong performance.”
But for Pulisic, it was nice to be the focal point again.
“I was happy with my performances and with the team. It’s really good to go and get minutes, get 90 today.”