Pulisic helps USA play low and win high

By Mike Woitalla

I had high expectations of Christian Pulisic. He delivered -- and then some.

This kid, even when he misses it’s exciting.

In the 31st minute, he met a Jozy Altidore pass at the edge of the goal area but failed to score. His shot hit the inside of the left post and banged against the right post. Not often you see a shot hit both posts.

On Tuesday, Pulisic, who turns 18 on Sept. 18, became the youngest U.S. player to start a World Cup qualifier.

In the eighth minute, he unleashed the first U.S. shot of the game, a 20-yard rocket that forced a diving save from Trinidad & Tobago goalkeeper Marvin Phillip for a U.S. corner kick.

In the 44th minute, Pulisic hit a low pass across the goalmouth that didn’t reach a teammate, but was misplayed by a T&T defender Radanfah Abu Bakr such that it set up Sacha Kljestan’s goal, to make it 1-0 in what would become a 4-0 U.S. win to clinch first place in its semifinal round group of Concacaf 2018 World Cup qualifying.

By halftime, Pulisic had established himself as the USA’s most effective -- and entertaining -- player.

In the 25th minute, he nutmegged a T&T midfielder, bounced off a tackle, and sent a precise pass to Alejandro Bedoya on the right wing.

Previously, Pulisic, who debuted in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund in January, had seen 177 minutes of action for the USA in seven appearances as a sub during which he scored three goals and assisted once.

On Tuesday, we got to see him for the entire 90 minutes. And during that time he displayed qualities the USA so dearly needs from its players.

Exhibit 1: His ball skills – his first touch and dribbling acumen. It’s not even that we need players to dribble past half the opponent’s players like a Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi. But just being able to evade the first defender does so much to develop a team’s attack. Because it unbalances the foe’s defense and gives teammates a chance to get open.

And after the first few times Pulisic proved he could shed a marker, he started getting more space from T&T’s defenders. He also picked up the ball in midfield and raced upfield whenever he saw the opportunity. In a 52nd-minute sequence that ended with an 11-yard Altidore shot saved by Phillip, four defenders converged on Pulisic before he delivered the pass.

On the fourth goal, Pulisic, halfway inside the U.S. half, pounced in front of Joevin Jones to intercept a pass and dribbled 50 yards upfield before passing to Jordan Morris, who after a nifty back-heel turn passed to Kljestan. He relayed the ball to Altidore, who found Pulisic in front of the goal. Phillip saved Pulisic’s shot but Paul Arriola buried the rebound.

Despite all of Pulisic’s prep work, he doesn’t officially get the assist on Arriola's goal. He did though on Altidore’s second goal, when Pulisic struck a sharp low pass for Altidore to poke home from close range.

The fourth goal came when Pulisic stormed through the middle, but he was a winger on Tuesday and that’s where he did the most damage because of what he did and didn’t do.

Pulisic didn’t whip balls into the mixer for aerial battles. He moved in from the flank and sent in low passes, which are much more difficult for defenders to deal with – as demonstrated on the first goal -- and more likely to create chances for attackers.

It’s easier for defenders to confront a high ball and head it away than to cope with a low ball hit with pace. A high cross provides a scoring chance only at the point where an attacker can meet the ball at the right height to head it. A low pass in front of the goal is ripe for a shot the entire time it rolls across the goalmouth.

One could compile a highlight reel of Pulisic’s play on Tuesday to inspire wingers on how to be most effective. His play had a profound impact on the USA’s attack deep inside the opponent’s territory, where so often things break down. He helped the USA play some classy soccer.

Of course, Pulisic benefited from many of his teammates performing well. Having behind him the USA’s best outside back, Fabian Johnson, freed him from defensive duties, although he did plenty of that as well. And before setting up Altidore’s goal, Pulisic combined on a textbook give-and-go with Kljestan.

The U.S. win did come playing at home against a T&T team that had already qualified for the Hexagonal. And the USA has almost always beaten T&T at home.

But the win on Tuesday was by all measures impressive, much more entertaining than we’re used to, and bodes well for the future -- looking forward to seeing more of the 21-year-olds Morris and Arriola, and the teen Pulisic.

12 comments about "Pulisic helps USA play low and win high".
  1. Kent James, September 7, 2016 at 2:46 p.m.

    Well said. The only thing I would add is that passes on the ground are also much easier for forwards to finish, since they only have to control the ball in two dimensions, rather than three.

  2. Kevin Sims replied, September 8, 2016 at 9:40 a.m.

    The threat of well-placed and well-paced ground crosses into the box is seemingly underestimated by the coaching, playing and viewing masses. Much.

  3. Allan Lindh, September 7, 2016 at 3:02 p.m.

    Well deserved praise, but a little churlish not to mention Sacha Kljestan's steller work in both matches. Great young players running onto the ball is one thing, but having someone in the middle who can get them the ball is key. That person ain't Bradley, not any of the other wannabes. And lest we forget, bonehead Klinsmann has been told by everyone with half a brain to give Sacha a try for two years, and only put him on the roster this time because of an injury to Brooks. Can't fire the DumDum now in the middle of qualifying, but US Soccer sure better be looking for his replacement.

  4. Miguel Dedo replied, September 8, 2016 at 10:05 a.m.

    I second the suggestion for more praise for Sacha. Also a tip of the hat for Jordan Morris -- his turn with the ball just before Arriola's goal was big-time classy.

  5. Joe Linzner, September 7, 2016 at 3:28 p.m.

    Mr. Lindh, I suggest you use that half of the brain.....

  6. Vince Leone, September 7, 2016 at 4:50 p.m.

    Elephant in the room: Pulisic could be exhibit #1 for JK's argument for players going to Europe. (I note that JK has not made this point himself.)

  7. Wooden Ships replied, September 8, 2016 at 2:25 a.m.

    Vince he has made that point before. Players need to challenge themselves at the highest levels. We have many young players doing that now. You want to get better, play with and against better. Proven axiom.

  8. Miguel Dedo replied, September 8, 2016 at 10 a.m.

    "Going to Europe" requires a European team offering a job. I expect that all US players offered a good situation in Europe would accept. Praise Europe, praise MLS, let players choose which is the better job situation.

  9. Ric Fonseca, September 7, 2016 at 10:46 p.m.

    Vince if JK were to use that point, he would habe bene strung up even higher than he has been of late.

  10. Joe Linzner, September 8, 2016 at 10:24 a.m.

    it is easy to feign superiority when one's decisions are made from a position of unaccountability!

  11. beautiful game, September 8, 2016 at 11:03 a.m.

    Pulisic looks like the real deal; his technical abilities and simplicity of play are quite evident. Too bad such qualities are short within the squad.

  12. trebor gt replied, September 9, 2016 at 8:41 a.m.

    I liked what I saw from all the younger players these last two games. I loved Sacha's under-reported impact as well. The competition was not terrific however and I'd like to see the same roster vs Mexico in November which I think is a better litmus test.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications