ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Christian Pulisic seemed like the weight of millions of American football fans had been lifted from his shoulders.
The first American to play in and win a Champions League final, Pulisic struggled in January, was played out of position by Chelsea and was even benched for a World Cup qualifier against Barcelona. Honduras.
Now he has propelled the United States on the cusp of a World Cup comeback with the first international hat-trick of his career. He had fired up his team, celebrated by doing the worm dance for a fan, earned a yellow card for dissent and capped off the night by sharing the victory with his mother and father.
“The reason why tonight meant so much is because we want to be on the biggest stage, playing the World Cup,” he said on Sunday after leading the United States against Panama 5- 1.
On the same pitch 4½ years ago, Pulisic scored the first goal and netted another in a 4-0 win over the Panamanians. Four days later, he crouched on a pitch in Trinidad, his World Cup dream shattered by a 2-1 loss that upset the USA Soccer Federation from presidency to the national team and the lineup, where 114 players rode their bikes. Pulisic, who scored the American goal that night, buried his face in his hands at the final whistle.
Now, all the United States needs to do to qualify for November’s tournament in Qatar is not to lose by six or more goals in Costa Rica on Wednesday night. The Americans have nine losses, a draw and no playoff wins in Costa Rica, but they haven’t lost by six goals anywhere since a 1979 friendly against France, and not in a competitive match since 1957 in Mexico. .
Pulisic, a 23-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania, was among four survivors of the squad that died on that last night of the Clint Dempsey-Tim Howard generation, joined by Paul Arriola, DeAndre Yedlin and Kellyn Acosta. Arriola was the only other on the pitch against Panama, scoring and assisting as part of the 17-point stretch capped by Jesús Ferreira’s goal.
Pulisic converted a pair of shots on goal in the first half, and his strike in the 65th minute was exquisite. With his back to goal, a spinning Pulisic took a touch with his left leg, circled around Fidel Escobar and faked the ball between his own legs. Pulisic pushed the ball with the outside of his right foot through Andrés Andrade’s legs and slid over a sliding goalkeeper Luis Mejía’s leg with his right foot from 8 yards out.
He is part of a new era of American football that left home in high school and debuted for a marquee club in a major European league, followed by Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna.
Pulisic received the captain’s armband for the eighth time, matching Tyler Adams, also just 23.
“The coaching staff talked about it and picked Christian, I think, because of the trip,” USA coach Gregg Berhalter said. “You have a guy who was there before – he was on the pitch when we didn’t qualify, and that was us saying to him, ‘It’s a new group, it’s a new team and you’re a leader” and we wanted to show that and we wanted to highlight that. And I think when I look at his performance, other than the three goals and the hat trick, everything else was in line, everything else was exactly what we had need it to do in terms of work rate, effort, energy, intensity and its direction.”
Pulisic is already tied for seventh on the American goalscoring list with 21 goals. His European club career is unprecedented for an American.
He was the eighth-youngest player to make his Bundesliga debut, aged 17 years and 133 days when he first appeared for Borussia Dortmund in January 2016. Pulisic won the 2017 German Cup, won a big transfer to Chelsea for the 2019-2020 season. season and won the Champions League last May and the Club World Cup in February.
But despite all he accomplished in black and yellow and then blue, he aspired to success in red-white-and-blue.
“I think it was a great night, of course. I mean, scoring my first hat-trick with the national team, I’m extremely proud,” Pulisic said. “I really want to play in a World Cup and so does this team. And that’s why tonight was so important for us. And I’m really happy that we’re able to be in a good position to do that and finish the game. work.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports