“We were just sort of relentless … good performance.”
Christian Pulisic was describing the US men’s national team’s collective display in a postgame sideline interview after their 7-1 Concacaf Nations League hammering of Grenada at Kirani James Athletic Stadium Friday night. But he might as well have been talking about himself.
This was one of those occasions where the star individual’s level was profoundly interwoven with the group’s, where Pulisic was engine, spearhead and collaborator all at once, setting up the match’s first two goals before netting one of his own. It was a man-of-the-match outing, setting the standard, just as he so often has since leaving Pennsylvania for Borussia Dortmund at age 15 nearly a decade ago – and this time, with a ready smile.
“Yeah, definitely a good time,” the Chelsea attacker, who’s captaining the squad in the absence of Leeds United midfielder Tyler Adams, told reporters in a postgame press conference. “We love scoring goals and that's what we do. So obviously good scoreline, positive result for the team. So we definitely enjoyed ourselves out there.”
This fleeting visit to a Caribbean minnow on an imperfect tropical pitch was a far cry from the rarified air of Qatar the Yanks were breathing just a few short months ago.
World Cup hangovers are not uncommon – after their last mundial, the USMNT suffered one so acute it metastasized into a slump that eventually cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job – yet there was no sign of any such in Pulisic’s clinical slicing and dicing of the Spice Boyz from the opening whistle along his usual danger zones down the left channel.
“I'm amazed by Christian,” said interim head coach Anthony Hudson after the win that clinches the Yanks’ spot in this summer’s Gold Cup and puts them on the doorstep of the CNL semifinal stage.
“When a cycle is over, and then you have the start of a new cycle, especially the one we've just had, where you have the high of a World Cup, and then you have games like these at the time of the season where players are fighting for relegation, Champions League, real tense times in their clubs, it's very, very easy to turn around and look at the schedule and say, ‘Look, with all due respect, I think the team can get away without me and win these games.’ And this happens all around the world with all sorts of international teams, I've had experience with this in the past.”
Pulisic, he explained, just isn’t wired like that, even at elevated risk to his own health and fitness.
“Through this last cycle and leading up to this camp, and then coming into camp, I just can't speak highly enough of the character of this person,” said Hudson, “who not only is a talented player, but it's someone, I can assure you, he just absolutely loves playing for his country. Great character, loves playing for his country, is inspiring to the rest of the group. And I think you saw that in his performance. I can't remember the amount of times he puts his body on the line. For such a big player, plays at a big club, has a huge value on him. And we go to places like this and he has no problem just giving absolutely everything he has. So he is an inspiration to the rest of the group for sure.”
Longtime friend and teammate Weston McKennie, the USMNT’s most prominent extrovert and banter specialist, could not resist getting a few digs in as he answered questions next to Pulisic in the press conference. When the time came, however, his praise was generous.
“I mean, to be completely honest, it's what I expect of him,” said McKennie of Pulisic’s dominant outing. “For him to be able to do it consistently and be back and be in that zone, it always helps the team out in the best way, because he's one of the players on our team that can create things and can make things happen. So just to see him having fun, and just playing his game and with the confidence that he has, It's amazing.”
On Thursday Pulisic had spoken of “the beauty” of “new challenges” in games like this, of resisting the temptation “to get frustrated when maybe conditions aren't perfect, or things aren't going your way.” A day later he embodied that spirit, even as he got fouled a game-high five times by Grenadians trying in vain to disrupt his rhythm.
“It's my job to help create and score goals and assists for the team,” said Pulisic, drawing a “that's right” rejoinder from McKennie, but batting away the notion he’d done anything special, even as he saluted the tiny nation of some 120,000 inhabitants. “It was an important game for sure. I don't rank it as like one of our best performances ever. I think we put in a solid performance, got the job done.
“It was a really nice scene, though, tonight in Grenada for sure, I thought. Field [was] not bad, thought the stadium was beautiful, nice. Cool little atmosphere. So I think we definitely enjoyed ourselves here.”
For CP10, it was both just another game and a moment to savor. And that artful balance seems to suit him and the USMNT quite well.