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How Thrilling It Is To Have Christian Pulisic Back In Top Form

MONZA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 18: Christian Pulisic of AC Milan scores his team's second goal during the Serie A TIM match between AC Monza and AC Milan - Serie A TIM at U-Power Stadium on February 18, 2024 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

At a handful of distinct moments over the past half-decade, it's been vaguely possible to make a thin case for someone other than Christian Pulisic as the best U.S. men's player. While Pulisic was in hamstring hell, Tyler Adams was covering acres of ground and scoring against Atlético Madrid in the Champions League knockout rounds. While Pulisic was only finding playing time at wingback under Graham Potter, Gio Reyna was doing maestro shit on the ball during one of his brief periods of full health. You'd have to squint, but it was theoretically possible.

Each of those qualifiers has nothing to do with Pulisic's gifts as a player, merely the boundary conditions of his play, and now that he is healthy and playing on the wing again, there can be no argument. Pulisic in the midst of perhaps the best season of his career with AC Milan, one spent scoring and creating goals at a regular clip, consistently delivering steady performances while playing out of position on the right wing instead of his preferred left, and, most importantly, stuffing the highlight reel with moments of brilliance, ones that remind you more than anything else of Pulisic's undeniable talent.

This past weekend did not initially seem like it'd be another stage for such a moment. Manager Stefano Pioli rested Pulisic against a deeply average Monza side. Even the best players need to be rotated, and for 45 minutes, Milan looked like a team playing without its preferred right or left-winger (the highly sought-after highlight machine Rafael Leão) or striker, spotting Monza a 2-0 lead. To start the second half, on came the three starting forwards, and on came Milan.

Rossoneri striker Luka Jovic picked up an inexplicable red card in the 52nd minute, yet Milan tied the match up before the 90th minute, thanks to Pulisic. His 64th-minute assist to Olivier Giroud was the product of some smart running and positional work, though the centerpiece of his fantastic half came in the 88th. Recovering the ball after the midfield recycled it around following a thwarted cross, Pulisic stood still on the edge of the box. Nobody was moving, no advantages lay in front of him, so he took two touches and blasted it right into the top corner with his left foot.

More than the off-foot technique here, what I love is Pulisic's confidence. At his best, Pulisic is a very cocky player, someone who relishes getting defenders one-on-one in space and punishing them with his speed and technique. We've seen him routinely operate like this in a USMNT shirt, and it's refreshing to see him doing it in the AC Milan strip after his tribulations at Chelsea had so clearly sapped his joie de jouer. He spent the game cutting into the middle, winning footraces to the outside, and generally creating dangerous opportunities every time he got on the ball. Hell, he's spent the season doing that stuff.

For as long as Pulisic has played in top European leagues, he has yet to log double-digit goals or assists in any single campaign. It seems likely he'll reach that plateau this year, as he's on seven and six right now, with a spare Champions League goal and Coppa Italia assist to boot. While the Monza equalizer was special, the best Pulisic goal came against Frosinone in December, when he took a pass from his own keeper through three defenders and the opposing keeper with a perfect series of touches. Simply world-class shit.

Pulisic is playing at his swaggering peak while many of his countrymen are struggling. Adams had hamstring surgery and hasn't played in the Premier League yet this season, Reyna moped his way from the Dortmund bench to the Nottingham Forest bench, Folarin Balogun has been a disappointment in Monaco so far, and the Aaronson boys have gone missing. There's been plenty to like, particularly Johnny at Real Betis, Taylor Booth with Utrecht, and Sergiño Dest's renaissance at PSV, but things have been unsteady on the whole. All the better that Pulisic is thriving at Milan. The World Cup is not all that far away, and the player pool is in a weird state at the moment. It feels very reassuring to see the U.S.'s best player return to form, and leaves me feeling more confident than ever that the 2026 World Cup trophy won't leave the United States.

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