Christian Pulisic celebrates scoring for Chelsea last season. (Photo special to FrontRowSoccer.com)
By Michael Lewis
When he flies across the Atlantic for U.S. men’s national team duty, Christian Pulisic knows he is going to play and in a role at which he excels – as an attacker.
At Chelsea, not so much.
Recently, it has turned into a guessing game whether the standout midfielder-forward will be in the lineup and exactly what position he will play for the Blues.
Sometimes it is as a midfielder, sometimes as a forward, and sometimes even as a right wingback. The latter position seems strange for someone who is so vital for the USA’s success in World Cup qualifying. He hasn’t seen a minute of action in the Blues’ last two matches. Pulisic last logged time, 69 minutes in a 1-0 loss to Manchester City on Jan. 15.
“I mean, it’s tough,” Pulisic said during a media Zoom call on Wednesday, prior to Thursday night’s World Cup qualifier against El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio. “I’ve haven’t always been playing in the positions I want to play in. But I think it’s a good quality to be versatile and be able to be able to play in all kinds of positions and have different strengths on the pitch. I’ve learned a lot and I think I’m ready to hopefully be in a spot in the next couple. of games that I’m more comfortable in.”
As an attacking midfielder or forward.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter has seen only the upside of Pulisic moving around so much with his English Premier League club.
“I just love the fact that Christian is fighting to be on the field and whether he plays forward, his natural position as a winger, withdrawn attacking midfielder or if he plays wing back. He’ll do whatever it takes to be on the field,” he said. “I think that’s the mark of character, a mark of someone who knows how valuable it is to play for a club like Chelsea.”
Pulisic has scored three EPL goals in 754 minutes over eight starts and 12 games this season, in which he missed several games due to an ankle injury suffered during the September qualifying window.
Like any competitive player, it has not been easy for the 23-year-old Hershey, Pa. native. Let’s face it. Chelsea, the defending UEFA Championships League titlists, has quality at every position. Barring being a Triple A list player, someone is going to be left of the Starting XI or even the gameday roster, sooner or later.
Even Christian Pulisic.
“I would say there’s two sides of me, especially when, you know, when people ask you how you are,” he said. “Sometimes there’s the soccer side and then there’s the person side. So, the person side is even more important for me and I’m doing all right, in that sense. But it’s a lot sometimes.”
When he faces the U.S. media in a conference call, questions about his playing time with Chelsea, or lack thereof, invariably will come up.
“It’s always when I come to the national team, ‘How are our things with Chelsea? What’s this? What’s that?’ It’s tough. It’s tough. It’s definitely played a lot on me. And mentally it’s been difficult at times. But I’m always very excited to come back with the national team and sort of step away and get to get to enjoy playing with these guys and get to just enjoying football in general.”
During this window, Pulisic will be able to play with the likes of Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie for the first time since September qualifying.
“Obviously I’ve known these guys for a long time,” he said. “We’re very excited to be in camp together. Anytime that we can be on the field together, it’s an exciting thing. I think we all enjoy it a lot. Just having a full healthy team and as many guys available as possible is only going to help us in this process.”
Regardless of who Pulisic plays with, the USMNT is likely to face an El Salvadoran squad that will play ultra-defensively and keep as many players behind the ball as possible. That how most teams play against the USA in the states. El Salvador is seventh in the Concacaf Octagonal and barring a tremendous comeback over its final six games, it is likely to miss out on Qatar 2022.
So, the Americans have their work cut out for them in the match at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio at 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN).
“It’s going take just being relentless, constantly asking questions of their of their defense and just constantly going at them and putting a lot of pressure on them,” he said. “It’s not always easy against any team if they’re defending and sitting back [and you wanting] to score five goals. It’s not realistic. So, we have to we have to be clinical. We just have to just relentless and just keep going time after time, even if it doesn’t work out early on in the game.”