Pulisic assumes leadership role on return to American team
LONDON (AP) — Back with the United States for only the second time in an injury-troubled year, Christian Pulisic has watched the Americans rebuild from afar after their failure to qualify for the World Cup.
“I definitely need to be a more important piece of this team and continue to grow as a leader,” the 20-year-old midfielder said ahead of Thursday’s friendly against England. “It’s tough because I’m not a very vocal guy, not super outgoing. But I think the biggest thing I can do is lead by example. I want to show these guys how it’s done on a professional level.”
Pulisic is talking like a veteran and yet only debuted in March 2016. The Hershey, Pennsylvania, native has 21 appearances and nine goals, the last in the 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago in October 2017 that ended the American’s streak of seven straight World Cups. Pulisic’s only appearance since has been in a friendly against Bolivia in May.
His focus has been getting playing time at Borussia Dortmund, a task frustrated by injuries. Pulisic didn’t even make the bench Saturday when Dortmund beat Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich 3-2 to stay atop the standings. Pulisic confirmed he was “100 percent” fit last weekend.
“It’s tough. I had some injuries going on and off, and I got some games that I missed out,” Pulisic he said Wednesday. “We have a great team this year. I want to be on the field just like everyone else does.”
Pulisic inherited Landon Donovan’s No. 10 jersey and his importance to the U.S. team.
The burden of pressure, too, at a young age, much like Wayne Rooney experienced with England. Now 33 and finishing his career in Major League Soccer, the D.C. United striker is making a one-off England return after a two-year absence and will make his 120th appearances.
“I can definitely look up to a guy like that,” Pulisic said of Rooney, a five-time Premier League champion with Manchester United.
Rooney was part of an England “golden generation” that failed to live up to the hype. With a more low-key approach and most players unscarred by past setbacks, England in July unexpectedly reached its first World Cup semifinal in 28 years.
“It’s an inspiration for us,” Pulisic said. “We definitely feel that with the young side that we can we can also do something like that. That’s the goal for us.”
Pulisic has spoken with new U.S. team general manager Earnie Stewart, who says he will hire the next U.S. coach later this year, putting the new regime in place ahead of next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. After that will be qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and Pulisic figures to be in the prime of his career when the U.S. co-hosts the 2026 tournament with Canada and Mexico.
The American midfield of the future could be on the field together for the first time at Wembley: Pulisic, 19-year-old Tyler Adams and 20-year-old Weston McKennie, perhaps joined by Tim Weah, the 18-year-old son of former FIFA Player of the Year — and current Liberia president — George Weah.
“We have a lot of brave young players and guys who aren’t afraid to come in and show us what they know about the game,” Pulisic said. “Guys can’t come in to be shy and expect us to kind of show them the ropes. They’ve got to come in and they’ve got to show what they can do it and be competent with it.”
Pulisic is friends with McKennie, also based in Germany. Adams is expected to move there, too, this winter, leaving MLS’s New York Red Bulls for sister club RB Leipzig.
“We want to help out the young guys … as much as we can,” Pulisic said. “We also still have a lot to learn.”
Playing in Germany helps.
“The Bundesliga has been a great platform,” Pulisic said. “They trust their young players, and Dortmund has been an unbelievable start to my career.”
Inevitably when visiting England, talk will turn to whether Pulisic envisages a move to the Premier League. His Dortmund contract ends in 2020.
“I’m still enjoying every moment of it,” he said. “When the time comes, that’s when I have my talks my Dortmund and see what I want to do moving forward.”