Last week, USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann expressed his disappointment at the lack of young players putting pressure on the older U.S. players for spots in the team. Over the past two years, the U.S. has relied on veteran-heavy lineups in important games, in part because Klinsmann said the young players have not done enough to force themselves onto the team.
In essence, Klinsmann was issuing a challenge to his younger players that now is the time to answer the call. Those players answered that challenge and then some Tuesday night as youth led the way in a 4-0 thrashing of Trinidad & Tobago in the team’s final World Cup qualifying match in CONCACAF’s semifinal round.
It was a game of two halves for the United States. The first half saw the team launching several attacks through Sacha Kljestan, Christian Pulisic, and Bobby Wood, but veterans Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Bedoya left a lot to be desired and the attacks often ended when the ball made it to them. Kljestan did break through just before halftime.
Despite Altidore’s poor outfield play, he found himself on the scoresheet — after all this is a home World Cup Qualifying match. The striker scored twice early in the second half, giving him 13 goals in 16 home World Cup qualifying appearances. Following his second goal, it was out with the old and in with the new as Kljestan, Wood, and Bedoya made way for Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola, and Caleb Stanko.
Suddenly it was almost a new game, with the U.S. youngsters flying up the field on the attack, which culminated in Paul Arriola’s first USMNT goal to complete the 4-0 rout.
While many young players got their chance Tuesday night, this game will be remembered for one thing, the full debut of 17-year-old Christian Pulisic. Up until now, all seven of Pulisic’s appearances with the USMNT had come off the bench. Against the fans’ wishes, Klinsmann has chosen to bring the youngster along slowly, possibly in hopes of limiting the hype that surrounds the teenage phenom. But when he has gotten on the field, Pulisic has done nothing to show that the hype has been unwarranted.
Any hope that Klinsmann had of limiting the hype around Pulisic is now gone. Pulisic got his first start for the national team Tuesday night where he played the full 90 minutes and shined for all of them. His poise on the ball, his touch, his vision, and his passing were all simply sensational. This kid is just as good if not better than advertised.
Pulisic shined in all aspects of the game. He played fantastic on the left wing, beating defenders one-on-one to get to dangerous areas. He tracked back and showed that he is more than capable of winning the ball back when lost, or just putting in a defensive shift. Perhaps his best attribute was when Pulisic cut into the middle to get the ball and launches attacks himself, showing that his future lies in a central attacking midfield position.
Klinsmann’s take it slow approach, so as to not give Pulisic too much too quick, has worked so far, but after his performance against Trinidad & Tobago, it’ll certainly be hard for Klinsmann to drop him from the starting XI anytime soon. It may have only been one game, but it’s easy to see why he’s the best U.S. prospect since Landon Donovan, and possibly of all time.
The win for the U.S. secured the top spot in their semifinal qualifying group. They will now move on to the final Hexagonal round of CONCACAF qualifying where they will open their schedule with a home qualifier against rivals Mexico.
While some may not be thrilled at the prospect of playing Mexico right off the bat, the match couldn’t come at a better time for the U.S.. From a player perspective, both the MLS and Europe based players will all be in form as the MLS players will be gearing up for the playoffs, and the Europeans will have been in season for two months.
From a team perspective, there’s no better time than now to take on Mexico. The Mexicans haven’t been in the best of form since this summers Copa America, while the United States is arguably in the best form they’ve ever been under Klinsmann.
Tuesday night was a new dawn for the United States. They gave a start to a 17-year-old midfielder who proved to be the best player on the field over the full 90 minutes. The future is looking really bright for the United States right now.