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USA beats Panama 4-0, Pulisic convenes with soccer gods

On Friday the USMNT played Panama in what had been called a must win for their World Cup qualifying chances. In truth it wasn't a must win; given the softness of CONCACAF the US could still draw or even lose and there were still about 600 scenarios that would allow them to go to the World Cup. In CONCACAF if you want to go to the World Cup you basically just have to ask.

Though at this point Panama might have to ask pretty insistently. Everyone knew the first 20 minutes of Friday's game in Orlando, which saw Altidore, Pulisic, and Wood start up top, would be pivotal. Would the US come out and roll over like they did against Costa Rica? Would they look tentative like against Honduras?

The answer was a resounding no.

In the first two minutes Pulisic did a compound (where you hit the ball on one side of the defender and run past him on the other), quickly letting everyone know who was watching that, "My name is Christian. I am here to play soccer. I don't know what game the rest of you are playing, but I'll show you how we play at the highest level in the world."

His subsequent pass to Altidore wasn't the best, or the US might've gotten on the board right away. But luckily, they didn't have to wait much longer.

In the eighth minute a goal kick came out that Bobby Wood perfectly flicked on.  Jozy then played a deft touch to Pulisic, who took it from behind him (this first touch was incredible), and in an instant was sprinting toward the Panamanian goal. He sliced in between two defenders. His second touch was just far away from him to tempt Penedo, the goalkeeper out, who Pulisic sprinted past to slip the ball into the goal from an angle that was rapidly decreasing.

So, um, maybe you've heard of this guy. He also likes to round goalkeepers.

Pulisic's celebration was ferocious. He said after the game that he guessed "the emotion just came out." He grabbed his shirt and shook his hands and screamed at the crowd. He looked like an animal that's just been let out of a cage. He looked like a teenager with boundless energy and potential and a soccer boot that one day might be dipped in gold.

That first touch...

Things looked good for the US, and they looked even better 10 minutes later when Pulisic beat a defender with a fluid stepover and put a perfect cross into Altidore who redirected it in for a 2-0 lead.

These first two goals were flawless. The first goal was more exciting and more dramatic, but the second goal had plenty of merit, too. The fearlessness and confidence with which Pulisic went at the defender. The perfection of his cross which would've been defended or slipped past Altidore had it been 10 inches in either direction. And also, not so talked about, Altidore's brilliant run, deking toward the near post and then straightening out toward the center of the goal, in the perfect place to receive the pass. After his goal Altidore appeared to just stand still in front of the crowd, looking up into the stands. "This is me," he seemed to be saying. "I am Jozy."

From that point on the US seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. The USMNT definitely did not look flawless in this game, despite the clean sheet. Panama had several dynamite chances, and Omar Gonzalez and Besler, despite looking better than the US defense against Costa Rica and Honduras, were anything but impermeable.

Luckily, DeAndre Yedlin was back in the lineup. It cannot be understated how important it is to have a defender of his caliber on the back line. At one point both Gonzalez and Besler got beat on a mediocre dribbling run and it only ended when Yedlin came from across the field to clean up the mess. He also had a ball-clearing header that, were he not there, might've easily ended in a goal.

As for the USMNT midfield, Paul Arriola looked wonderful. His passes were crisp and he attacked and filled space well. He also had a few goal-scoring opportunities which, if he continues to get minutes, I'm sure will find the back of the net. Hopefully he does continue to get minutes, since building a midfield around Michael Bradley seems to be about the fastest road to mediocrity. Bradley looked his usual slow self throughout the game, giving the ball away egregiously on a couple of occasions and generally not looking dangerous.

Back to CP, the best article so far on his performance yesterday is this one. It highlights Pulisic's youth and fearlessness. As the article states, Pulisic is (on the topic of revered Panamanian Felipe Baloy) "a teenager who’s too young to have any idea who the hell Felipe Baloy is or why attackers once feared him. To Pulisic, Baloy was just another slow defender ready to be eaten alive."

Once again when Pulisic scored his first goal I found myself on my knees with my arms thrust skyward, overcome with jubilation. What a goal. What a performance. The US, despite some stumbling points, had some moments of greatness in this game. On Tuesday hopefully we will see more flashes of brilliance and also plenty of calm controlled possession, something lacking at times against Panama. One person I know we'll see more from is the focus of this blog and the focus of the collective US soccer world right now and hopefully for many years to come, Christian Pulisic.


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