Christian Pulisic has played 95 minutes – total – for Chelsea this season. (Photo courtesy of Chelsea)
By Michael Lewis
Without turning this piece into a commercial, you probably have seen the Volkswagen commercial that has Christian Pulisic dealing with pressure.
“Under pressure,” an announcer says. “This is the man you turn to. This is our difference maker.”
Pulisic obliges by getting fouled in the box and converting a penalty kick to show he was immune to the pressure.
That was fun to watch on several levels.
In reality, though, Pulisic hasn’t faced too much pressure on the pitch this new season because he hardly has played for Chelsea.
And, he certainly hasn’t had much fun this season.
In fact, the same can be said of some of hhis U.S. men’s national teammates who want to hone their skills and prepare for the World Cup in Qatar come November and December.
Four players, vital for the USMNT’s ultimate success in the World Cup are in varying degrees of readiness. The list includes Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Gio Reyna and Sergino Dest. Remember, Thursday is Sept. 1 and the USA’s first cup match is Nov. 21 against Wales.
Here is how these key American players have fared this season in Europe. The picture isn’t pretty and the numbers are far from impressive.
Pulisic has played all of 95 minutes as a substitute for an anemic and underachieving Chelsea side that is in ninth place in the English Premier League with a rather meek 2-2-1 record and that has scored but six goals this season. How pathetic for a team that is managed by Thomas Tuchel, who seems to get more pathetic each game. You would think that Tuchel would put Pulisic into the Starting XI to see something different.
Worse, there are reports emanating out of England that Chelsea ownership has blocked Pulisic going to another club.
Incredible, huh? And in a World Cup year, to boot.
Unfortunately, Pulisic can’t play very much in his soccer boots.
Reyna has seen action in one Bundesliga match — 28 whole minutes for Borussia Dortmund after returning from a serious of hamstring injuries that hampered him last year. Reyna came on in Borussia’s 3-2 home loss to Werder Bremen on Saturday, Aug. 20. Dortmund is treating Reyna with kid gloves because it doesn’t want to see a repeat of last season. For the USMNT, that is a difficult balance. Of course, an injured Reyna would do the USA no good in Qatar.
Reyna was left out of the squad in its 1-0 win at Hertha Berlin last Saturday after a minor complaint prior to the contest.
“With Gio, it’s a special situation,” head coach Edin Terzic sad. “Gio has been struggling with injuries for almost a year now. He kept fighting back and was then quickly disappointed again when the injuries kept returning.
“He actually trained very well this week. We have a very specific program tailored to him. But he didn’t feel good before the game. And when he feels that, then there’s no point in risking the next setback.
“But we will continue to build him up carefully in the hope that he will fully join in training from next week. We’d rather give up one or two appearances than risk having to do without someone for months.”
Dest hasn’t seen a second of action for Barcelona (2-0-1, 7), which is in third place in Spain’s La Liga and he get on getting the message he would be better off elsewhere. The right back reportedly is going to AC Milan in Italy, where he will get some much-needed minutes.
Weah missed Lille’s season opener due to a suspension and has sat out four other games due to a foot injury. He is supposed to return to action in early September and optimistic reports say he could be playing against Nice on Sept. 1 (that’s Thursday). Lille (2-2-1, 7) is in eighth place in French Ligue 1.
Just how effective can the likes of Pulisic and Reyna be when they are not playing, and not honing their mental and physical skills, which will be challenged and stretched come Thanksgiving time?
If Pulisic is dealt to another team, he might not be able to compete in the UEFA Champions League this season. But quite frankly, I could care less about the UCL. I am more concerned about country over club and the World Cup.
Playing for a possible inferior club could be the short-term answer. But the player is still performing in the same league and against the same teams even if his side isn’t the same caliber of his former club.
Besides, if a player had a decent World Cup, his value would rise, and he could be in a position to be transferred to another team to get an opportunity to perform in the UCL in the future.
Yes, I am biased. I an American and I want to see the USMNT do well in Qatar, and at least reach the knockout round and not suffer an embarrassing tournament.
But the squad won’t turn heads if key players such as Pulisic continue to sit rather than play.
Moves need to be made now not in October. It will be way too late by then.