WORLD CUP 2022
Will Christian Pulisic come through for USMNT against Panama?
The unquestionable leader of the USMNT, Christian "Captain America" Pulisic is almost the leader that we need him to be. Can soccer fans count on him?
With just two matches left to play in the World Cup qualifiers, the USMNT is focused on clinching their berth for Qatar. Their 0-0 draw with Mexico at Estadio Azteca on Thursday left the U.S. needing a win in Orlando. Their future isn’t entirely in their hands, though, as they need a bit of help in the form of a draw or loss for Costa Rica.
One of the highlights of the game in Mexico City was seeing Pulisic have a free shot in front of goal, and one of the most painful was watching him kick it straight into the keeper. That sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach is all too familiar to U.S. fans. All too often, they have filed out of Azteca on the wrong end of the scoreline.
It is rare to feel that Mexico got lucky in coming away with a draw, usually that feeling goes the other way. But today, that is exactly they case, Mexico can count their lucky stars and pat Memo Ochoa on the back. The chances were all on the visitor’s side and the outstanding work of the Mexican keeper is all that kept El Tri in the game.
USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter certainly saw this meeting as a positive, saying, “The group is jazzed, they're psyched. We wanted to be the first [U.S.] team to beat Mexico at the Azteca. We fell a little bit short, but the mood's not down, not at all. It's the opposite."
The U.S. team threw everything at the Mexicans, and a combination of bad luck and great goalkeeping kept the Americans off the score sheet. Yunus Musah, Christian Pulisic, and Jordan Pefok all had glorious chances denied and when the final whistle blew, the U.S. left it all on the field.
And that could be a worry for the match against Panama. In going all out, the starting XI might just be gassed out. They will be playing without DeAndre Yedlin, whose yellow card in Mexico City sees him ineligible for service.
With the return of Gio Reyna, the U.S. attack is getting close to full steam, and it will rely heavily on Pulisic to finish better than he did in Azteca.
The 23-year old Chelsea man made his 21st WCQ appearance in Mexico, and was the opening goalscorer in the last qualifying cycle, when the U.S. beat Panama 4-0. Chelsea fans will be all-too familiar with the ups and downs of Pulisic.
He has shown flashes of brilliance in the English Premier League, as well as being the first American to ever play in a Champions League Final, but all too often he has been hampered by injury and questionable performances when the Blues needed him most.
Jay DeMerit sees room for improvement, a move that would take Pulisic from being very good to being great. “I think part of it isn’t his fault, he’s been playing in different positions because he can play all across midfield and even up front. He becomes almost more of a utility man where he can fill in, whereas if he is defined like ‘I am a centre midfielder and this is where I play’, sometimes that can breed a bigger and higher quality of consistency. But then the other side of that is just opportunity. When he has got his opportunities, he has hit them. He has scored big goals when it matters, he is definitely the leader of the US national team.”
With room to grow, this U.S. team could be the one to step the USMNT into that top tier of nations. Yes, we have heard that for years, and about many players who looked to be next level. But none have had the talent that we see in Christian Pulisic. Captain America isn’t here to save us yet, but maybe he can teach us to save ourselves.