ORLANDO, Fla. — Less than a month has passed since Christian Pulisic's 19th birthday, but his status as the U.S. national team's talisman has been solidified for quite some time. At this point, the label "most talented player in U.S. history" is a staggering consensus.
Yet special players must step up in special moments, and there has been no more pressure-packed situation in Pulisic's young career than Friday's World Cup qualifier against Panama at Orlando City Stadium. With the Americans up against a nightmare scenario, facing their most desperate qualifier since the 2002 cycle, Pulisic rose to the occasion in spectacular fashion.
From his first touch, it was obvious Pulisic was bringing the bravado necessary to take control. He needed just eight minutes to unlock Panama's stingy back line with a much-needed opener, and teed up Jozy Altidore with casually brilliant skill in the 19th minute.
Speaking of Altidore, the 27-year-old delivered quite the supporting performance to Pulisic's starring act. In setting up Pulisic's opener, tapping home the second goal and floating in a Panenka for the third, Altidore partnered to great effect with Bobby Wood.
Here are Goal's player ratings from the Americans' 4-0 triumph over Panama:
GK TIM HOWARD, 6: Wasn't asked to do much but calmly dealt with the efforts that came his way, avoiding any rebounds.
D DEANDRE YEDLIN, 8: Locked down his side of the field with speed and tenacious defending, offering a notable upgrade at the position after sitting out the September qualifiers.
D OMAR GONZALEZ, 6: Had a few shaky moments early before settling into the game, providing a key aerial presence.
D MATT BESLER, 7: Was solid in distribution and avoided any substantial slip-ups on a day the U.S. kept control.
D JORGE VILLAFANA, 5: Saw himself exposed on a couple occasions but recovered well enough to ensure nothing came of those opportunities.
M PAUL ARRIOLA, 7: Brought energy on the right flank that fit the occasion perfectly, and though his final ball left something to be desired, he set up Wood for a couple golden chances — including the fourth goal.
M MICHAEL BRADLEY, 7: Did what he needed to do as the lone defensive midfielder, covering acres of space while winning loose balls.
M DARLINGTON NAGBE, 6: Was fairly quiet but still offered classy movement and control that often gets taken for granted.
M CHRISTIAN PULISIC, 9: What more can you say? By the time Pulisic exited in the 57th minute, resting up ahead of Tuesday's trip to face Trinidad & Tobago, the Borussia Dortmund star had yet again steered the U.S. to a crucial victory. We'll be talking about this performance for years to come.
F JOZY ALTIDORE, 8: Picked up two goals and an assist before halftime. The 27-year-old may have a history of injuries come big tournaments, but he's cementing his legacy as an all-time great for the U.S. in World Cup qualifying.
F BOBBY WOOD, 8: Played a part in the opener before using a persistent run to draw the penalty just before halftime. Flirting with the score sheet all night, he finally got on the board with a nifty turn and finish in the 63rd minute.
M DAX MCCARTY, 6: Earning his World Cup qualifying debut in his hometown, the veteran brought composure to central midfield as the U.S. sealed the result.
F CLINT DEMPSEY, 5: Nearly got on the end of some chances over the final 19 minutes.
M ALEJANDRO BEDOYA, 5: Put in a solid 11-minute shift to help see out the three points.