Christian Pulisic takes captain's armband for US, delivers worthy showing

PHILADELPHIA — To captain one's national team is an honor in and of itself, but when Christian Pulisic wore the armband for just the second time in his United States career on Sunday night, it was an extra special moment. 

A native of Hershey, Pennsylvania, just 100 miles up the road from Philadelphia, Pulisic not only led his team out for the first time on US soil, but provided the moment of quality needed in an unexpectedly tough test against Curaçao in the Gold Cup quarterfinals. The significance of the occasion was not lost on the 20-year-old, who starred in front of a strong contingent of family and friends, delivering a 25th-minute assist to Weston McKennie for the lone goal in a 1-0 win.

“It’s a huge honor,” Pulisic said. “I never pictured myself captaining my national team so to have that is a huge honor. I’m really blessed to be in that position and to have friends and family here.”

Pulisic last captained the Americans in a 1-0 loss to Italy in Belgium last November.

US head coach Gregg Berhalter said Chelsea-bound midfielder’s performance, on both sides of the ball, showed why he asked him to wear the armband.

“When we talk about the diversity of our leadership, Christian is a guy who is a top performer and he’s a guy that can lead through performance,” Berhalter said. “I talked to him about being captain this game and it’s something he readily accepted and you see his work.”

Pulisic’s assist was his third of the tournament, to go with a goal, which tied him for the tournament lead with Canada’s Alphonso Davies. 

“He’s a guy that — despite getting fatigued in the game — he didn’t stop working, and then he has the quality to give a great pass to Weston, an in-swinging cross,” Berhalter said. “He was in on a number of other chances, shots from the top of the 18, had that other chance in the beginning of the game that was really close to going in and his defensive work was excellent.”

Pulisic said the defensive part of his performance is part of playing his position as a central attacking midfielder for the team. 

“It’s part of my job, that’s the position I play,” he said. “Everyone defends and everyone was doing a lot of work tonight. That was what was required today and in the end it was a shutout so we did our job.”

The shutout was the fourth straight for the US, who have yet to concede in the competition through four games. An opponent they’ve struggled with more recently — Jamaica — awaits in Wednesday’s semifinal. 

“Knockout stages are not easy, that’s the one thing that we’re going to take way (from tonight),” Pulisic said. “This Jamaica team is going to make it a really tough game on us again and we’re going to have to grind it out and get a better start.”