FIFA Men's World Cup
Christian Pulisic once again shouldering the load for young U.S. team
FIFA Men's World Cup

Christian Pulisic once again shouldering the load for young U.S. team

Updated Dec. 2, 2022 1:59 p.m. ET

DOHA, Qatar — Christian Pulisic must have big, brass, er … shoulders to be able to carry all the expectation and attention headed his way between now and Saturday.

No American soccer player attracts the level of scrutiny directed at Pulisic at regular times, due to his status and national team longevity, even at 24.

It's magnified now, ahead of a World Cup round of 16 meeting with the Netherlands (10 a.m. ET on Saturday on FOX and the FOX Sports app), and after what most people assumed was a fierce clattering of his private parts in scoring the winning goal against Iran.

"I didn't get hit in the balls," Pulisic explained helpfully, as he addressed the media Thursday for the first time since Tuesday's collision.


Christian Pulisic's full news conference

All the talk is of Pulisic. All the questions, bar a couple, were directed at him at a news conference he attended alongside Tim Weah, before a training session the United States decided to close to the media.

What we don't know is if a pelvic contusion means some temporary discomfort and business as usual, or limited playing time and his effectiveness against the Dutch in jeopardy.

[Related: Scouting USMNT's next World Cup foe: Are Dutch vulnerable?]

The boldest move he made Thursday was in turning up to face the press. He could have hidden away, with his participation in training seemingly in doubt. He could have skipped the session and left colleagues to answer questions about him, always an awkward scenario.

He didn't do that. He came, said he's planning to play at Khalifa International Stadium, and told everyone what this team means to him.

"Honestly, this team helps me so much to take the pressure off," Pulisic said. "A couple of years ago, I felt like I needed to do more but with these guys I don't feel that at all. I know they have my back.

"You see the talent, you see the work they put in. That's the beauty of this group. They know that I've got their back, they've got mine, that's how it works."

Christian Pulisic provides an update on his status

Sometimes leaders help the team by deflecting attention from themselves. Sometimes they do so by taking it on, easing the spotlight on others, ahead of what will be by far the biggest game most of this squad have ever played.

The storylines and chatter are all going to be about Pulisic between now and the second Gregg Berhalter's squad is announced pre-kickoff. There is no avoiding it. So crucial is he to the attacking threat that there is no other issue in town. There is also no way there can be any final resolution of the matter that will satisfy everyone before Saturday.

World Cup coaches are paranoid and World Cup fans are conspiracy theorists, especially when they venture anywhere near social media.

That combination means Pulisic could be fine and the USA camp is playing it up, could be badly hurt and they're playing it down, or could be day-to-day like they're saying.

[Related: U.S. projecting confidence heading into Netherlands match]

There will be suspicion regardless, so conditioned are we to expect chicanery surrounding team selections from international coaches who want to keep their upcoming opponent guessing.

One thing to remember is that Pulisic has already played — and won — a Champions League final. He has swum in the deep water. He can handle what comes with it. His teammates have tactical blueprints to learn and digest, matchups against a highly-esteemed Dutch lineup to process, video sessions to sit through and nerves to conquer.

Having Pulisic be the center of gossip and questioning could prove to be a liberating experience for this young team.

Can USMNT's Josh Sargent and Yunus Musah provide sparks?

If you don't want to get too tense, the first rule of the knockout stage is that you don't talk about the knockout stage, which is hard to do when someone's straight up asking you about it.

Pulisic is used to center stage. He has been on this team since he was 17 and was already the face of it, in some ways, when the USA missed out on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

He has played for two of the biggest clubs in Europe with Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea, and he handles everything that comes with representing the big London club with aplomb.

He is not a natural comedian, but he understood that allowing in some humor would ease any tension from Thursday's media session. There is a lightness about Berhalter's group now, the strain lifted by the victory over Iran that removed the chance of a humbling early exit.

"That's a good way to word a question," Pulisic said with a laugh, when a journalist gave up on asking the forward if he would play this weekend and instead asked if there was a chance he wouldn't.

There was still time for some seriousness though, when quizzed about what it meant to him to have a World Cup "moment" by securing such a vital goal against Iran.

"I am hoping I haven't had my moment yet, to be honest," he said. "I am hoping it is still in front of me."

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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.


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