Christian Pulisic scored a nice goal yesterday. The ball was fired into him, he brought the ball down with a good first touch, spun, and scored to complete his hat-trick in a 5-1 win for the United States against Panama. It was undeniably a good goal and an excellent way to cap off a performance that means the United States are 98% of the way to qualifying for this November’s World Cup.
It was not, however, as good as Dennis Bergkamp’s goal against Newcastle.
There are, first of all, game state differences. Pulisic’s goal came in the second half, with the USMNT up 4-0. Bergkamp’s goal came in the 11th minute, to put Arsenal 1-0 up in a game they would win 2-0 against Newcastle, at St. James’ Park. Newcastle ended up finishing 4th in the 2001-02 season, qualifying for the Champions League. They were, at the time, quite a good side, and the win was important, the third in a then record setting thirteen-match winning run that would see Arsenal go from 4th, where they were at the beginning of the run, to overhauling Manchester United and winning the league title—a bit of a difference to beating the 63rd rank team in the world.
Secondly, it’s objectively a better goal. The ball from Robert Pires was a little bouncy; accurate, but bouncy. The ball is bouncing; the centre back, Nikos Dabizas, is touch-tight to Bergkamp, who was his back to him. He uses his left foot to roll the ball to roll Dabizas, protects the ball, and then finishes with his right foot. The whole move requires two touches: the first to roll Dabizas, the second to finish.
Pulisic, on the other hand, has the space already. There are defenders around him, but not touch-tight. Pulisic, like Bergkamp, uses his left foot to take his first touch, but rather than spin the defender, Pulisic spins himself. His second touch beats the next Panamanian defender, his third is to score. By no means is it a bad goal; it’s just not as good as Bergkamp’s, which only looks better in comparison.