Gregg Berhalter hails Christian Pulisic as leader of USMNT

Lizzy Becherano
Christian Pulisic led the USMNT's 5-1 result against Panama with a hat-trick.
Christian Pulisic led the USMNT's 5-1 result against Panama with a hat-trick. / Omar Vega/GettyImages

The United States men’s national team is one step closer to clinching their World Cup spot after defeating Panama 5-1 on Sunday at Explorida Stadium in Orlando, Florida. 

FC Dallas duo Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola each added to the tally, but it was Christian Pulisic’s hat-trick that led the USMNT home. The Chelsea star buried two penalties past Panamanian goalkeeper Luis Mejía before managing the third with a right footed shot from the center of the box and into the bottom right corner.

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter recognized Pulisic’s efforts on and off the pitch, handing him the captain’s armband in recognition of “his journey.”

“He was on the field when we didn’t qualify. And this was us saying to him, ‘This is a new group. This is a new team and you're a leader,’” said Berhalter postgame of the Chelsea star. 

“We wanted to show that and we wanted to highlight that. And I think when I look at his performance, besides the three goals and the hat trick, I think everything else was in line. Everything else was exactly what we needed him to do in terms of his work rate, his effort, his energy, his intensity, and his leadership.”

Pulisic first represented the national team at the Under 15 and Under 17 levels, before earning his senior call up on March 27 2016 by former head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. He debuted during that World Cup qualifying cycle, coming on as an 81st-minute substitute for Graham Zusi.

He has since gone on to record 21 goals in 47 caps for the USMNT. Now, Pulisic has one goal. 

He said: “I just really want to play in a World Cup and so does this team. And that's why tonight was so important to us, and I'm just really happy that we're able to be in a good position to go do that and finish the job off.”

The American side remains in second place on the Concacaf table with 25 points in 13 games, tied with Mexico. The team travels to Costa Rica on Wednesday, where they must avoid a 6-0 result to officially qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.