Christian Pulisic bails out USMNT in forgettable 1-1 friendly draw with Venezuela

Pulisic scored his fifth USMNT goal. (USA TODAY Sports)

OK, so the United States men’s national team began a busy summer with an unremarkable performance in a 1-1 tie with a Venezuela team that will probably finish last in South American World Cup qualifying and didn’t even bring all of its best players.

Were it not for Christian Pulisic’s equalizer on the hour, the U.S. would have dropped its lone tuneup game for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago in Colorado and against El Tri in Mexico City. But the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund phenom did score, putting a gloss on a fairly ragged night for the Yanks.

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Pulisic – comfortably the best player on the field, as has become usual in his nine months in the senior starting lineup – helped avoid a freakout on the eve of some crucial games. After all, the American qualifying campaign, while no longer in crisis, still isn’t in great shape. Bruce Arena’s men dangle in fourth place with nearly half the games played. They’ll need to climb one place to secure an automatic berth to Russia next summer.

The goal, Pulisic’s fifth in just 14 national team appearances, couldn’t mask an unflattering USA performance.

So what are we to make of that?

First, keep in mind that it was a glorified scrimmage, a game to foster sharpness and familiarity with playing at altitude before the two games that really count are held at elevation. Also, it just so happens that tickets and broadcast rights were sold in order to generate some revenue to offset the cost of preparing a national team for its competitive games.

That said, the Americans also lacked sharpness and, for the first half, the speed of play to trouble an opponent that had no trouble holding off a team getting reacquainted. Venezuela was set up to play on the counter, sitting mostly packed into its own half. It took the U.S. until the second half before it worked out where some passable routes into the opposing penalty area might lie.

And by that time, Venezuela, comfortably the worst team in CONMEBOL playing an experimental young team, could have been up by two or three goals. It was only thanks to veteran American goalkeeper Tim Howard that it wasn’t.

He couldn’t prevent a goal on the first real chance for the 58th-ranked team in the world in the 29th minute. A corner kick  was not fully cleared, served back in and stabbed into the net with the flying toe poke by Jose Manuel Velazquez.

The Americans were unsettled and mostly spent the rest of the first half bailing out water in the back. Howard’s sprawling save denied a slightly deflected long shot. And on a corner, he tapped a diving header off his own post and out.

Finally, after halftime, the U.S. found some use for its abundance of possession. A few minutes after the break, Jorge Villafana served up a cross that met Clint Dempsey’s clean run. But the striker, needing just one goal to equal Landon Donovan’s all-time national team scoring record of 57, missed the target.

In the 61st minute, Pulisic received the ball at the edge of the box, skipped away from his man and drove in a low shot with his left foot to get the Americans on the board.

Consequently, a first loss of the Second Bruce Arena Era was avoided. Instead, his record is now 2-0-3 – and 1-0-1 in qualifiers. A defeat wouldn’t have mattered much from a practical perspective, although it would have heightened anxiety surrounding a team that has lived through plenty of it in the last few years. If nothing else, that was avoided.

And an improved performance in the second half will provide some positive talking points for those eager to draw real conclusions from a friendly. Should they insist.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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