Christian Pulisic (right) runs at Uruguay defender Martin Caceres in an international friendly on June 5. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Eight games, 176 minutes in two competitions for his club team.
Not exactly the way Christian Pulisic wanted to prepare for the World Cup, which kicks off in less than two minutes.
Despite his lack of playing time for Chelsea in the English Premier League, U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter expects some big things out of the forward in Qatar come November.
“I think the World Cup will be a great moment for him as a player,” Berhalter said during a Zoom press conference on Thursday afternoon.
Let’s face it. Pulisic is the American side’s great hope in the World Cup. He is the most talented player in the pool and he can produce magic when he has the ball and even when he doesn’t. He has an exceptional finishing ability, especially when he is running at the opposition and has a sixth sense in finding teammates who are open.
Pulisic, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Sunday has made six appearances for a total of 155 minutes in the EPL this season and another two in the UEFA Champions League for 21 minutes of action.
Not exactly the best way to get in form for the World Cup.
Pulisic has scored 21 times in 51 appearances for the USMNT.
“I think Christian is an ultimate competitor,” Berhalter said. “He just turned 24 on Sunday and it seems like he’s been in football for the last decade. He’s seen it all, done at all. I think the World Cup will be a great moment for him as a player. But what I’ve seen the most from him is his growth as a person and that’s been gratifying. Over these last 3 1/2 years, he’s really matured really. He’s been able to handle adversity.
“Every player’s situation with their club is different, and it’s how they navigate through that’s important and he’s navigating through it in a great way. I’m excited to see what the future holds for him.”
The immediate future for Pulisic and his USMNT teammates is an international friendly against Japan in Dusseldorf, Germany on Friday and then one last World Cup warm-up match.
Pulisic will be one of several players who haven’t received much playing time with their respective European clubs for one reason or another this season. But they are expected to see action in the two games, and Berhalter said that he planned to monitor each player and won’t push them behind their personal limits.
“It’s where the six subs in friendly games comes into play,” he said. “We’ll manage those guys until they get fatigued. When they can’t produce their actions anymore, we’ll get them off the field. That’s the beauty of having six substitutes. I can imagine that in the World Cup, teams will be doing that for players that that aren’t playing 90 minutes or that are not that are completely fit. So, I think there’s a balance. You ideally want guys that can produce high energy throughout the 90 minutes but with six subs, it gives you some flexibility.”
Excerpts of Pulisic’s autobiography, Christian Pulisic: My Journey So Far” have been making their rounds in the British media. The USA standout had some scathing comments about former Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel, who misled Pulisic that he would be starting second leg of the 2021 UCL against Real Madrid. After drawing in the opening leg, 1-1 (the American scored the Blues’ lone goal) Chelsea recorded a 2-0 victory as Pulisic came off the bench to assist Mason Mount’s goal in the 85th minute.
“What happened before that game was hugely disappointing for me. l’d had a really good first leg performance and our following match was against Fulham in the league.” Pulisic said in an excerpt in the book, which will be published Oct. 18. “Tuchel told me that he was resting me for the second leg and as a result, I didn’t play a single minute in the Fulham game. Then on match day of the second semi, Tuchel tells me he’s changed his mind and he’s going with Kai [Havertz]. I honestly was dumbfounded and very disappointed.”
Veteran writer Charles Boehm asked Berhalter if he thought he was going to be featured in the book.
The USMNT boss laughed and then replied, “Oh my God, that’ll be great headlines right around the opening game.”
And he left it at that.