WORLD CUP | Qualifying heats up as the U.S. leaps forward

Tom Twardzik 06/14/17

U.S. star Christian Pulisic thrilled with two stunning goals against Trinidad and Tobago.

On Thursday night, the 18-year-old Pulisic continued to build his legend and the hopes of U.S. fans for a national team star.

In an important World Cup qualifying victory over Trinidad and Tobago, Christian Pulisic gave the U.S. its only two goals and a massive boost of momentum heading into Sunday night's tough Mexico match.

It was 0-0 heading into the second half but the U.S. surged in its first minutes, taking the ball to the T&T goal and earning a solid cross from Yedlin to the center of the goal where Pulisic's sliding kick delivered the first goal of the match.

Just ten minutes later, Pulisic struck again, embarrassing the T&T keeper with a hard grounder past the inside post. The youngest player to start in a World Cup qualifier for the senior U.S. team proved twice more in Thursday's match that he is skilled at a level we haven't seen in recent years in this country.

The goals gave the U.S. much-needed confidence going into Sunday night's difficult away match at Mexico City. The USMNT has never beaten Mexico in Mexico City and had only drawn twice before their thrilling, aggressive draw this weekend.

In only the sixth minute, Michael Bradley dribbled past a surprised Mexican midfield and lobbed and long chip shot over the head of the sleeping keeper to stun the home crowd. It was a sensational goal from the veteran that instantly boosted the energy of the U.S. fans and players. Like Golden State in Game 4, Mexico was suddenly playing a shocked recovery game and their blatant fouls showed how desperately they needed a quick equalizer.

Bobby Wood took pass after pass up front for the U.S. amid dangerously sloppy tackles by Mexico and an elbow to Bobby Wood's face that, commentators and reporters agreed, should have resulted in a red card against the home team in just the 4th minute. Somehow, the only cards given in the match were yellows for Arriola and Yedlin on the U.S. side.

After Bradley's 35-yard goal—with which he finally and spectacularly redeemed himself for giving the game to Portugal in Brazil, 2014—Mexico waited less than twenty minutes for an equalizer from Carlos Vela. It was a huge missed opportunity on a U.S. corner that set Mexico up with an unstoppable counter and Vela's goal.

The Mexican team continued to foul aggressively and get away with it, uncarded, while Pulisic found little room to work under heavy guarding by the opponent's midfield. Halftime brought renewed hope to both teams but neither managed another point in the extremely tense second half.

The tension was at its peak in the three minutes of penalty time, when the ref, who'd already stopped any attempt at hiding his bias, refused to blow the final whistle. The clock showed 93 minutes but the ref let Mexico continue their slow drive to the goal and take a shot. He gave them a last corner attempt but it failed and he was forced, finally, to end the game in a draw.

Where things stand in #TheHex after Sunday night's draw at Azteca. 🇺🇸📈
A post shared by U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) on Jun 12, 2017 at 12:39pm PDT

With seven straight wins or ties under their new coach, Bruce Arena, the U.S. will enter the final weeks of qualifying in September with high hopes and good chances. Now tied for second in the group (behind Mexico), the U.S. will look for more wins starting August 31 against Costa Rica. The exciting Pulisic will continue to shine as the team's most promising playmaker and scorer as the USMNT looks to lock in its spot in Russia 2018.

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