Christian Pulisic celebrates his goal. (Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis Editor

Here it was, an important World Cup home qualifier and the most recognizable name on the U.S. men’s national team wasn’t in the Starting XI.

But there was a good reason was Christian Pulisic was sitting the pine. The 23-year-old midfielder had been enduring one of his worst spells for club and country.

Head coach Greg Berhalter admitted it was a difficult decision to make as he tried to do what was best for the team and for his player.

“I think the hardest things to do as a coach is talk to a player and tell him that you support him and you’re behind them 100 percent and then you don’t start him because the players feel somehow that you’re not supporting him,” Berhalter said after the USA’s 3-0 win over Honduras in St. Paul, Minn. on Wednesday night. “For Christian, it was a very difficult decision. But I felt it was a decision that was made to put him in the best possible position to make the impact that we know he can make.”

Which he did.

On his second touch and only two minutes after replacing Jordan Morris in the 65th minute.

Kellyn Acosta, who attempted free and corner kicks in Pulisic’s place, set a corner into the box. Ricardo Pepi nodded the ball to Walker Zimmerman. The ball deflected to Pulisic, who tucked it home from 10 yards into the left side past goalkeeper Edrick Menjívar.

“That’s why when he’s in those positions, on the field, he has the quality to make finishes like that to score goals like that,” Berhalter said in a Zoom media press conference. “That’s the impact that he made for the group and really helped seal the victory for the team.”

Immediately after the game, Pulisic told FS1: “It’s my job to come in and make a difference. And I’m glad I could get the goal.”

It was Pulisic’s second qualifying goal and 18th international goal, surpassing Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley and Earnie Stewart for the 10th most in USMNT history.

Whether that will get Pulisic out of his funk, it remains to be seen. But like chicken soup, a player scoring a goal in a World Cup qualifier certainly can’t hurt.

Pulisic hasn’t been playing regularly with Chelsea, the reigning UEFA Champions League champs, and he played in the opening two qualifiers of the winter window as though he was lacking confidence. He really struggled in the 2-0 defeat at Canada on Sunday.

“It’s never easy when you’re a player, a high-profile player and you’re not in the form of your life,” Berhalter said. “Those things are very hard to always capture, especially when you’re at a club like Chelsea. But he’s a guy that means a heck of a lot to this team. He’s one of the top performers over this stretch of time, and he’s going to be a huge contributor to what we do, moving forward, that’s for sure.”