Christian Pulisic scored his 15th international goal Sunday. ( Photo)

By Michael Lewis Editor

Not only did Christian Pulisic immediately step to take the penalty kick that turned into the deciding goal in the U.S. men’s national team’s 2-1 win over Northern Ireland Sunday, he stepped up his presence with the team in general during the international friendly.

Captaining the team for thte fourth time in his young career, the 22-year-old Pulisic led by example on the field with a superb performance. He was so influential and effective he was named man of the match by the U.S. Soccer Insiders and by coaching staff as well.

“So glad to see were aligned on that,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said during a Zoom call with the media. “But what I say about Christian, forget about all the great stuff he does on the ball. He just competed today. And when he’s in that type of mode he’s just an unbelievable player and that’s what I was most happy with today. He was relentless pressing. He just kept going and going and going. Then he’s so good on the ball, he can unbalance the team. He had an overall really strong performance.”

Given his experience and accomplishments, Pulisic is ready to be an important leader for the team, Berhatler said.

“That’s the next level for Christian is just that type of performance all the time,” he said. When he does that, the rest speaks for itself.

“He’s such a creative player. … I was really impressed with his performance, really impressed with how he handled himself today, before the game, during the game and after the game.”

Whether he is captain in future matches, it doesn’t matter for the Chelsea midfielder. Pulisic said that was ready to take that next step up.

“That’s where I want to be. I want to I want to help lead this team in whatever way that is, whether that’s what the captain’s band or not,” he said. “I hope I can always lead by example, and be one of the hardest workers out there. That’s always going to be my aim. If I do that I think the guys will see that and do the same.”

After he was fouled by defender Daniel Ballard in the box, Pulisic left no doubt who was going to take the penalty kick. He slotted the ball to the right of goalkeeper to lift the USA into a two-goal advantage in the 59th minute.

Pulisic’s 15th international goal moved him into a 12th place tie with Cobi Jones on the USMNT all-time scoring list. He came the 13th men’s players to reachc that many goals.

There also was no doubt he was playing with confidence for the entire game. That might not necessarily be easy to do after struggling to find playing time with his English Premier League team.

“It always feels good, of course, to get on the scoresheet,” Pulisic said. :It’s definitely going to help build some confidence, feeling good that guys are feeling good as a team here and for me personally as well. Going back to club club level I’m excited. I’m feeling, feeling confident. I’ve said I feel the best I felt in my game, so I’m excited for what’s to come.”