USA’s ‘selfless leader’ Pulisic inspires win over Bolivia

ARLINGTON, Texas — United States men’s national soccer team coach Gregg Berhalter hailed the leadership of captain Christian Pulisic after his one-goal, one-assist performance in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Bolivia to kick off its 2024 Copa América campaign.

“He’s a selfless leader,” Berhalter told reporters after the match at AT&T Stadium. “He goes out and he just competes and works really hard, and that helps the team. And then you add to the fact that he’s highly skilled and he can make plays on the offensive end, it’s a great combination.”

“To me, it was an outstanding performance tonight,” added Berhalter, who said that Pulisic earned the coach’s man of the match award.

Pulisic opened the scoring three minutes in, burying a shot after playing a short corner to Tim Weah and receiving the ball back near the edge of the box. Pulisic ran to the sideline and looked for set piece specialist coach Gianni Vio in the stands, eventually pointing at him as he celebrated.

“It’s Copa América, it’s a big tournament,” Pulisic said. “I feel like I’m always pretty excited after I score, but it’s a big moment, it’s a major tournament.”

Pulisic then tallied an assist just before halftime, collecting the ball and turning in central midfield before finding Folarin Balogun for the left-footed finish.

Tyler Adams earned his first USMNT start since the Concacaf Nations League final in March and played 45 minutes, which Berhalter said was always the plan even though Adams asked to play longer.

“I was like, ‘Dude, we’ve been down this road,'” Berhalter said with a smile.

“But of course he wants to stay on the field, and that’s Tyler. You see how much he means to the team; you see his attitude and his intensity. He’s a guy that we want on the field, but we just have to be careful. The plan was 45 minutes from the get-go, and we stuck to the plan.”

Adams said he felt more comfortable coming out of the game with the team leading but that “obviously, I’m itching to play.”

The Americans were heavy favorites coming into the match. Bolivia sits second from the bottom in CONMEBOL’s World Cup qualifying, with the worst goal difference and only one victory from six matches.

Bolivia offered little going forward, failing to seriously test American goalkeeper Matt Tuner, while the U.S. team had several opportunities to add to its lead in the second half.

“We’ll always look at chance creation as a marker of performance, and I think we created enough chances today,” Berhalter said. “And on most days, those chances are going to go in — and today they didn’t, and that’s fine.

“I think we’re pleased with the result. The game was never in doubt, and I think it’s a good starting point on which to build throughout this tournament.”

The USMNT will next face Panama on Thursday in Atlanta before ending group play against Uruguay on July 1.

“For us, it’s just about analyzing and improving,” Berhalter said. “I talked about one of our objectives throughout this tournament was to keep trying to get better. I like the performance for an opening game against a difficult opponent. We’re in a good position.”