Christian Pulisic may have scored the winner for the U.S. Men’s National Team on Sunday, but that might have been one of his less impressive contributions on the day.
Such was the level of his performance.
The USMNT recorded its first away victory vs. a European nation in six years on Sunday, and it was Pulisic who provided the difference in the 2-1 triumph over Northern Ireland. The talented winger earned and scored the penalty that proved decisive in the friendly at Windsor Park in Belfast, but he earned rave reviews from head coach Gregg Berhalter for more than just the slotted finish.
“What I would say about Christian is forget about all the great stuff he does on the ball. He just competed today,” said Berhalter. “When he is in that type of mode he is just an unbelievable player and that is what I was most happy with today. It was relentless pressing. He just kept going and going and going and then he is so good on the ball, he can unbalance the team, and to me he had an overall really strong performance.”
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) March 28, 2021
The 22-year-old Pulisic not only put in plenty of the less glamorous work off the ball, but he was also key to many of the Americans’ attacks. Be it through dribbling runs like the one that earned him the 59th-minute spot kick or by showing good recognition to move into pockets of space to receive ball or in finding teammates in dangerous positions, Pulisic shone in his second game back with the USMNT in more than a year.
He was always looking to get involved, never really drifting out of the match despite the Americans not necessarily playing to their best from the run of play for stretches.
“In my opinion that is the next level for Christian: just that type of performance all the time,” said Berhalter. “When he does that, the rest speaks for itself.”
For Pulisic, it was refreshing to have a 90-minute shift. He has been playing sporadically at Chelsea this season, and having the chance to go from whistle to whistle while also making a big impact boosted both his fitness and confidence levels.
What’s more, he did all that vs. Northern Ireland as the USMNT captain.
“That is where I want to be,” said Pulisic. “I want to help lead this team in whatever way that is, whether that is with the captain’s band or not. I hope I can always lead by example and be one of the hardest workers out there.
“If I do that then I think the guys will see that and do the same I hope. I am always wanting to help lead this team.”
It will be some time before Pulisic gets another chance to do so. The USMNT is not set to reconvene until late May for a friendly ahead of a busy summer slate that includes important fixtures like the Concacaf Nations League and Concacaf Gold Cup.
Still, this latest outing should only help to serve him as he tries to break back into Chelsea’s starting lineup on a more regular basis. Not only because he scored a goal, but because he impressed in a number of different ways.
“It is definitely going to help build some confidence,” said Pulisic. “I am feeling good, the guys are feeling good as a team here, and for me personally as well going back to club level I am excited.
“I am feeling confident and I have said I feel the best I have felt in my game, so I am excited for what is to come.”