Christian Pulisic: USMNT star kicks off victory by deking Panama keeper
08 October, 2017, 01:10 | Author: Glenda Knight
After taking a handful of heavy knocks in the first 10 minutes of the second half, Bruce Arena took the youngster out for defensive midfielder Dax McCarty in the 56th minute to protect Pulisic from taking any more of a beating than he had to.
"The job isn't done yet", Jozy Altidore said.
In the days before the U.S.'s tension-soothing 4-0 World Cup qualifying blowout of Panama on Friday, the players went through what Jozy Altidore called some of the most detailed preparations he had ever encountered in his national team career to ready a gameplan that would attack Panama mercilessly from the opening whistle. Arena's tactic - to win at home and get at least a point on the road through the qualifiers - left little margin for a home loss, but his team now stands on the brink of World Cup qualification.
The Panamanians had conceded only five goals in the first eight games of the Hexagonal, but the USA attack tore them apart on Friday, scoring two goals in the first 19 minutes and four overall in a victory that put the US on firmer footing in its quest to reach World Cup 2018. Darlington Nagbe was his usual confident self on the ball working the left wing, and while he had the quietest night among the US attackers, he still provided a calming presences when needed.
"We're well positioned to hopefully qualify for Russian Federation".
The lopsided result provided a cozy cushion in the first tiebreaker (goal differential), leaving both Panama and Honduras (2-3-3) to win their final matches by inconceivable margins.
"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. It doesn't happen that way. "We have had a great year despite what people think".
For the Americans, however, a win against bottom of the hexagonal table Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday will seal their ticket for an eighth consecutive Finals - and even a point should do it.
Playing his first worldwide match since he turned 19 last month, Pulisic was moved to central midfield from the flanks and sparked the attack from the opening whistle with pace and ball control seldom seen from an American. "I hate to kind of pour too much praise on him". Such a young kid, and he gets it. He's got a lot of work to do. It was his eighth goal in 19 global matches and sixth in this World Cup qualifying cycle.
"Of course there was pressure", defender Matt Besler said.
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The world No. 2 eased past Russia's unseeded Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1 in 69 minutes and will face Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko next. The Romanian held the momentum in the second set to win the last three games of the match to seal a place in the final.
Arena started five attacking players, with Pulisic flanked by Darlington Nagbe and Paul Arriola, and Altidore and Wood up top.
That was the vibe after a dominant 4-0 win over Panama, at least.
"I thought we were smart in how we went about it", Bradley said on Friday night.
Altidore's Panenka penalty in the 43rd minute ended the match as a contest after Bobby Wood was fouled inside the area before the latter completed the scoring past the hour-mark.
After Gabriel Gomez broke free from Omar Gonzalez and shot wide from 19 yards, Tim Howard's goal kick was headed forward by Wood about 10 yards past midfield. Pulisic jumped to avoid defender Roman Torres' challenge and used the outside of his right foot to play the ball forward. He then dribbled to his right, juking Panama keeper Jaime Penedo. Arena dared his opponent to overload Michael Bradley in front of the US back line, then hit Panama in the gaps that their forward momentum (and curiously high defensive line) left behind. Pulisic tumbled over as the ball rolled in for his eighth goal in 19 global appearances, his fourth in the hex.
For his part, Pulisic said he would be fine for Tuesday's game. Pulisic finished from a tight angle to give the US a 1-0 lead, and 10 minutes later set up a tap-in goal for Altidore to give the hosts a commanding 2-0 advantage. As Pinedo dived to his left, Altidore chipped the ball down the center for his 41st worldwide goal.
Pulisic, 19, pulled off the maneuver in the seventh minute at Orlando City Stadium.
"The job isn't quite done yet", Bradley said.
Notes: First-place Mexico, which clinched last month, rallied to beat visiting Trinidad 3-1 on goals by Hirving Lozano, Javier Hernández and Hector Herrera after Shahdon Winchester had put the visitors ahead.
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