The USMNT has found its No. 10 in Christian Pulisic as the teen continues to impress
When U.S. men’s national team roster was announced for crucial World Cup qualifiers this month, there was a notable lack of veteran No. 10 players. There was no Sacha Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber or Lee Nguyen — the players often discussed as No. 10 playmakers the USMNT could rely on.
There was just one player who seemed likely to take up a central playmaker role: Christian Pulisic.
He has often played on the right wing, both for Borussia Dortmund and for the USMNT. But coach Bruce Arena opened his first World Cup qualifying matches of the cycle in March with Pulisic being given a central, free role — and he did the same thing against Venezuela in a tune-up match on Saturday. In a 4-1-3-2 formation, Pulisic was the tip of a diamond midfield and the undisputed driving force of the USMNT attack.
Have the Americans found their new No. 10 in the 18-year-old? It sure looks like it and Saturday only added another data point that Pulisic has found his spot with the USMNT. Arena has in the past lamented the lack of playmakers in the USMNT pool, but it appears he has found a very good one.
Truth be told, the USMNT’s 1-1 draw to Venezuela was underwhelming and frustrating. The Americans didn’t look sharp and they struggled to create any meaningful danger in the early goings. But the best player of the evening was Pulisic, who equalized for the Americans in the second half with a composed finish:
He barely celebrated the goal and he didn’t look anymore relieved when the final whistle blew either — it was as if he knew the USMNT needed to play with more urgency than it had been all day. After the match, he said the start was slow, but the team will look better in next week's qualifiers.
"We didn't come out with the right intensity like we should've, but as the game went on, I think we found our groove," he told FS1 afterwards. "...I feel great personally and I think the team really came together in the second half and we'll be looking really good against Trinidad & Tobago."
Though friendlies always need to be taken with a grain of salt and Venezuela fielded a squad that was decidedly not the A-team, Pulisic was a bright spot and a leader on the pitch. He was all over the field, given free rein to roam wherever he could make something happen.
It’s not just that he scores goals — although he now has five for the USMNT, two of them in his last three games as a No. 10 in Arena’s setup. It’s smaller things he does that makes him so effective, like an early back heel pass to break Venezuela’s pressure or the way he comfortably would shake off a defender to find a pass.
In the No. 10 playmaking role that Arena has given Pulisic, he is allowed to focus on attacking and adding dynamic creativity in and around the box. But Pulisic also put in a good defensive shift on Saturday, making five recoveries and disrupting the Venezuelans at times.
It’s not a guarantee that Pulisic will never feature along the flank for the UMSNT again. When the USMNT has to weather injuries and suspensions, or when they need to take a more conservative approach against tougher teams, Pulisic could very well move back to a wide role. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that when the USMNT is at its best and its most potent, Pulisic will be in a central, free role.
Pulisic has shown himself to be the kind of player Arena can give the keys to in the midfield. He might be the only true No. 10 playmaker option on the USMNT roster right now, but it may be because there’s just no one close to Pulisic right now.
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