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Christian Pulisic Is Finally Back In The Groove

Christian Pulisic of AC Milan celebrates after scoring first goal during the Serie A Tim match between Genoa CFC and AC Milan at Luigi Ferrari Stadium on October 7, 2023 in Genoa, Italy. (Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Giuseppe Maffia/Getty Images

Heading into the international break, American men's players just enjoyed one of their best collective weekends in years. Joe Scally clawed back a point for Borussia Monchengladbach with a stunning goal, Folarin Balogun scored against Reims and got serenaded by both sets of fans, Gio Reyna saw the field for the first time this year, Auston Trusty earned his first Premier League start, and the PSV boys kept flying. The depth of the player pool has defined the U.S.'s current micro-era of transatlantic soccer, though for two years, all that depth could only do but so much to salve a significant source of pain as the best player of that generation slowly decayed on Chelsea's bench. How much did a bunch of guys playing in the Championship really matter if Christian Pulisic was floundering?

Thankfully, the man formerly known as wonderteen is floundering no more, and in the 87th minute of AC Milan's game against Genoa on Saturday, he combined with his U.S. teammate Yunus Musah to craft the most beautiful moment of the weekend. Musah sent in a long diagonal ball towards the box, right into the tiny pocket of space Pulisic created by hesitating as he made his run. The first defender flailed past the ball and Pulisic corralled it with an inspired little touch before turning and firing the winner right past Josep Martinez. (Stick around in this video to see Olivier Giroud take over as keeper and preserve Milan's win with a great save.)

Pulisic is 10 games into his tenure with Milan after finally escaping Chelsea. He's started every league game save one, and he's played critical roles in both of Milan's Champions League games thus far. After scoring off the bench on Saturday, Pulisic has now quadrupled his 2022-23 Premier League goal tally in one-third as many games. Finally free from having to play wingback, secure in an everyday starter role out on the right wing, Pulisic is showing just how great he can be. The Genoa goal is probably the best of the quartet he's scored this year, though the Lazio one was also fantastic, and when you watch him instinctually make the right runs, find the right slivers of space, and confidently liquify left backs on the run, you wonder what could have gone so wrong at Chelsea to the point that a player like Pulisic got lost in the shuffle.

Pulisic's injuries were the biggest factor in his struggles, especially since a club like Chelsea necessarily has redundancy at every position, making it easy to lose one's spot and hard to win in back. Also, he played under four different managers last season, after beginning his career under the dim bulb of Frank Lampard's managerial intelligence, which he was only in position to have to do since the manager in charge of the club when they bought him from Dortmund, Maurizio Sarri, was sacked before Pulisic came over in the summer of 2019. Still, a certain amount of background chaos is endemic to the game at this level, especially so at Chelsea, and it would have been easy to talk yourself out of believing in Pulisic as a top player or a worthwhile starter or deserving of the hype he had when he was 17. However you want to define expectations, he had them, and whatever cause you want to chalk it up to, he fell short.

Which is why it feels so good to see him soaring again. The USMNT's best player, who put on a show at the World Cup despite the mess at Chelsea, is yet again playing with the old swagger we haven't seen in a long time. Better yet, he's doing it while others in his cohort are finding individual and collective success of their own. USMNT players are major contributors for the leaders of the Eredivisie, Ligue 1, and, thanks to Pulisic's and Musah's heroics, Serie A. Everything feels good and nothing hurts, and when Gio Reyna hugs Gregg Berhalter before coming on in the 60th minute of the U.S.'s friendly against Germany next weekend, I will feel as confident as ever that we're going to win the 2026 World Cup.

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