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Monday, December 05, 2022

Pulisic’s first hat-trick gives America a 5-1 win, World Cup on the verge

by Ronald Bloom

Orlando, Fla. ( Associated Press) – American players hoisted a red and blue banner with “QUALIFIED” in bold, white letters after Christian Pulisic realized what was happening.

“The boys didn’t know at all what he said. It was just handed to them,” said the American star. “Once we realized – there is no need to show it because we still have a job. “

Pulisic’s first international hat-trick on Sunday night saw the Americans beat Panama 5-1 and put the Americans on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 2014.

The Americans won’t get one of three automatic berths from North and Central America and the Caribbean due to the loss of only six or more goals in Wednesday night’s finale in Costa Rica. They can’t finish worse than fourth, which earns the June playoffs against New Zealand.

“We honestly treat it like any other sport,” Pulisic said. “We’re going to prepare exactly as we would if we needed to win.”

Pulisic converted two penalty kicks during four goals in the first half, which also saw Paul Arriola and Jess Ferreira score, then extended the lead 5–0 on a memorable goal with two brilliant touches, which helped defenders. Saved a pair.

Canada (28 points) secured their first berth since 1986 with a 4–0 win over Jamaica. In terms of goal difference, the United States (25) is second to Mexico and Costa Rica (22) is fourth.

While the Americas have never won in Costa Rica, the goal difference is the first tiebreaker, and the Americans range from plus-13 to plus-three of the Ticos. The US also has a second tiebreaker for total goals, 21 to 11.

In October 2017, the United States defeated Panama 4–0 in Orlando and needed only a draw in Trinidad four days later, but lost 2–1. Pulisic and Arriola were the only holdovers from that night.

“I’m not celebrating anything,” said Ariola. “I was in this exact situation or a very similar situation four years ago, and we know how that qualification ended.”

Pulisic’s 21 international goals included 12 in World Cup qualifying. Wearing the captain’s armband, he scored both in the 17th minute of first-half stoppage time and in the fourth minute, after being fouled by Annibal Godoy. Pulisic scored 6-for-6 on a penalty kick in his US career.

His goal in the 65th minute was brilliant. After Luca de la Torre and Antoine Robinson exchanged passes twice, Robinson passed. With his back to goal, a spinning Pulisic took a touch with his left foot, swung around Fidel Escobar and dummy the ball through his legs. Pulisic poked the ball through Andres Andrade’s legs from the outside of his right foot and slid over the sliding goalkeeper’s leg from Luis Mejia with his right foot from 8 yards.

“I really want to play in a World Cup and so does this team,” Pulisic said. “I’m really happy that we’re in a good position to do that and finish the job.”

Pulisic came under fire during a vigorous confrontation with Michael Amir Murillo, and the 23-year-old winger was given a yellow card for dissent in the 69th minute.

“His role involves making special plays and scoring a few goals,” Berhalter said. “His defensive work rate, his doubles, his second balls, his challenges, dribbling, you name it, he did it tonight.”

Panama was eliminated after reaching the World Cup for the first time in 2018. Godoy scored for Panama in the 86th with a header from a free kick from Eric Davis that defeated Zack Stephens.

Salvadoran referee Evan Barton awarded the first penalty after a video review concluded that Godoy shook the face of his Nashville teammate Walker Zimmerman.

Pulisic assisted in the second goal in the 23rd minute, down a length ball from Zimmermann and passed to Antoine Robinson, who passed. Ariola, all 5-foot-6, stunned 5-foot-11 Davis for his ninth international goal – just the second goal on a header in his professional career.

Berhalter has been criticized for choosing Ariola by fans who have repeatedly slandered Major League Soccer players in online forums.

“There are always going to be people who hate and have their own opinion, and I just try and focus on myself,” said Ariola, with a smile. “I know how valuable I am and how valuable I can be to this team.”

Ferreira scored 3-0 in the 29th minute with a 4-yard right footed shot that defeated goalkeeper Luis Mejia. Ferreira’s third international goal capped a 17-touch sequence that included Ariola (four touches), Yunus Musah (four), Luca de la Torre (two), Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Shaq Moore (four).

Moore was involved as of late as fourth choice after Sergio Dest suffered a thigh injury, DeAndre Yedlin was suspended for yellow-card accumulation and Reggie Cannon tested positive for COVID-19. Seven regulars were missing, and about 20 members of the US Traveling Party were found to have stomach worms in Mexico.

Godoy’s second penalty was for pushing Miles Robinson. Luis Mejia dived left, and Pulisic went to the top right of the keeper with the first kick. Mejia guessed correctly on second, but Pulisic’s drive was too hard and too close to the post to reach the keeper. The US scored four goals in the opening half of the qualifiers for the first time since a 5–2 victory over Cuba in 1949.

Pulisic celebrated with a worm dance after his second goal. His parents were in a sell-out crowd of 25,022 and they shared the victory with him in front of the stand after the final whistle.

“He just told me he was proud,” Pulisic said, his voice filled with emotion. “They have been everything to me in my life. So it was just a good moment.”

Notes: Costa Rica won El Salvador 2–1 on a bicycle kick in the 30th minute by Anthony Contreras goals and Joel Campbell in the 31st minute around Christian Gil’s score in the first minute of first half stoppage time 2–1 Of. … Mexico registered a 1-0 win in Honduras on a 70th-minute goal from Edson lvarez.

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