USMNT Move On To Hex Behind Pulisic, Kljestan

Jurgen Klinsmann finally granted the wishes of legions of American soccer fans when he named both Christian Pulisic and Sacha Kljestan to the starting lineup Tuesday night. The duo proved to be worth the clamor as they led the Stars & Stripes into the hexagonal round of 2018 World Cup qualification. 

Coming into the night the United States needed just a draw against Trinidad & Tobego to advance, while a victory would secure them the top spot in the group. Though they started the match somewhat uneasy, the Americans turned on the heat late to take a dominating 4-0 victory into the final leg of World Cup qualification. 

17-year-old wunderkind Christian Pulisic led the men on the attack from his left-attacking midfield position. Right next to him, in the center-attacking midfield position, Red Bull New York’s Sacha Kljestan formed a bond with the precocious winger.

Just before halftime, in the 44th minute, Pulisic crossed a ball into the box which bounced off several defenders. One of them managed to corral the ball and attempted to clear it to midfield. However, the ball bounced off Kljestan’s chest and fell right to his foot. All the MLS league-leader in assists had to do was push the ball into the far corner of the net, which he did with ease to give the US a 1-0 lead going into halftime.

In the second half, Pulisic and striker Jozy Altidore took over the match as they generated chance after chance. Four minutes after Altidore doubled the US’s lead with a slick first touch and finish, he doubled his goal total on the night when he put the match out of reach at 3-0. Once again Pulisic was the catalyst as he sent a gorgeous cross into the box that Altidore calmly slipped into the net in the 53rd minute.

The final tally on the night was, unsurprisingly, set up by Pulisic again. The Dortmund player, and Pennsylvania native, deftly stole the ball from Jovan Jones and led a breakaway. After passing it to fellow youngster Jordan Morris, who found Altidore on the left side, Pulisic received a cross from the striker and drilled it off the keeper. The rebound found its way to another youngster, Paul Arriola, who added his second-ever senior international goal to close out the match. 

Pulisic, who was lighting social media up all night long, suffered from an incredible lack of luck when he rang a shot off both posts in the 30th minute with the match still scoreless. He was by far the best player on the pitch for either side, and offered the USMNT an offensive weapon they’ve likely never had before. There’s no question that, despite his youth, he has cemented his role as a key cog in the squad.

For Kljestan, the start was sweet revenge as he proved he’s worthy of international playing time. After being called up for the first time in two-and-a-half years, the Huntington Beach, California native tallied two goals and two assists in the two matches the US played in the last five days. The four points increased his career USMNT point total by 50% to 12. His creativity in the final third also cemented his role on the squad going forward.

The US National Team hosts the Mexican National Team in the first round of hexagonal qualification on November 11th. Expect the match to be played in Columbus, Ohio where the USMNT have had considerable success, especially against their rivals from the south. With the injection of youth and talent into the squad, it’ll be difficult to project anything but a positive result that day for the United States.

Photo courtesy of USA Today