Getty Images

Christian Pulisic on BVB, USMNT, Premier League future

Leave a comment

Christian Pulisic is only 18 years old. The fact we need to constantly remind ourselves of that fact says it all.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

The Pennsylvania native has burst onto the scene in the past 12 months, becoming a star for the U.S. national team and Borussia Dortmund and is hailed as the next great star of American soccer after his first full season as a pro in the Bundesliga.

Rightly so. The kid is legit.

[ STREAM: Watch 2018 World Cup qualifiers live ]

Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk just two days after scoring his fifth goal for the USMNT in a 1-1 draw with Venezuela in a friendly, Pulisic was looking forward to the challenge of the U.S. facing Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico this week as qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia has reached a crucial stage for Bruce Arena’s men.

Below is our chat in full as Pulisic announced his new partnership with Panini America.


You just won the German Cup, your first major trophy. You came off the bench and won the penalty kick which ultimately won Dortmund the game. What was that experience like?

It was incredible. After such a tough, tough season with so many ups and downs in my first full professional season, just being able to end it with a trophy was really special. I am just really happy to see all the excitement on the guys’ faces.

What are your thoughts on Thomas Tuchel’s sudden departure from Dortmund? 

I was very thankful for everything he did for me, giving me the chance at such a young age and getting a start to my professional soccer career. It is something I will always remember him for and I am very thankful for that. It is tough when it happens in professional sports but now he is gone I think the team will be just fine with whoever we end up getting.

You featured in the UEFA Champions League for the first time this season, how do you rate Dortmund’s campaign?

It was always a dream for me to play in the Champions League. Getting that experience and that exposure against the biggest names and teams in the world, it was really amazing for me. I just learned so much so I am just going to take that and continue to bring it in my game and take it into next season when we are in the Champions League again. I am very excited.

As for future with Dortmund, you just signed a new deal and seem very happy. There was a lot of talk about you moving to Liverpool over the past two transfer windows, so is the Premier League somewhere you’d want to play in the future?

It was the biggest league I followed as a kid and watched. The league has a lot of players, and teams, I liked in the Premier League. Right now, it is not something I am looking to get into immediately or anything like that. I am happy at Dortmund and I am excited for the rest of my career.

Focusing on the U.S. national team, you scored your fifth goal at the weekend and you role is really developing on the team. How have the veterans — the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, Tim Howard — helped you settle since you made your debut?

Those guys have been great to me. Obviously they mess with me a lot and stuff like that. It is pretty normal though, since I’m a young kid. I’ve learned so much with them giving me their feedback and what they see and helping me to improve not just our team game but me individually as well and what I can do to help the team. It’s been great learning from those guys and being able to play alongside them when I was just watching them a few years ago on TV!

With two huge World Cup qualifiers coming up, what would be a good points tally from the two games? And how much are you looking forward to the atmosphere at the Azteca on Sunday against Mexico?

I am really excited. My teammates can only tell me how crazy those games are but I got the experience of playing against Mexico once and it is all about going in there with the confidence and belief we can win and get three points there. If we go in with that mentality then we won’t have a problem. We are going to have to fight for 90 minutes and I feel confident we can do that.

In the past at ProSoccerTalk we spoke to one of your youth coaches about you. They said you’re big NBA fan and you love LeBron James. Is he your ultimate sporting idol?

Absolutely. He has been one of my biggest role models, even though it is not the same sport. It is amazing what he does in his sport and that he can dominate for so long and keep himself healthy and really under so much pressure, how he carries himself. That is what impresses me the most and so many people can look up to that.

With your partnership with Panini America, did you collect their trading cards during previous World Cups? Any players in particularly you had to collect and were idols?

It’s hard to say specifically which players I collected but I loved it, I still have a book at home of the cards I collected. Now, being able to see my face on a card is pretty special.

What are your targets for the next 12 months? Russia is on the horizon, so is your aim to be playing a leading role for the U.S. at the 2018 World Cup?

Absolutely. I like to set more short term goals and right now it is just to qualify for the World Cup and if we put all of our focus on that then people should definitely see us come 2018 in the World Cup.

Finally, what drives you each day to improve and do you let the hype get to you? Every day you must hear people comparing you to Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey and hailing you as the “savior of US Soccer” 

For me, it [the pressure] is really not difficult to handle. I put more pressure on myself than anyone else does, so I don’t need to look or listen to that stuff. It really doesn’t impact me. I just try to push on every day and with the support system I have in my family, I am just really happy to do what I love and to get the chance to do it every day is really special.

Olivier Giroud signs new contract at Chelsea

AP
Leave a comment

Olivier Giroud‘s meaty French forehead will remain in the Premier League for at least another season.

Giroud, 32, was set to be out of contract this summer but he has signed a new deal at Chelsea which is a big relief given their FIFA transfer ban for the next two transfer windows.

Reacting to his contract extension, the 2018 World Cup winner was delighted to remain at Stamford Bridge.

“I am very happy to sign a new contract. I really wanted to stay at least one more year – I have felt a part of the team, the family, since the beginning and hopefully there will be more trophies to come,” Giroud said.

This is a good deal for everyone involved. Giroud had options from across Europe and the Premier League for next season, and he will still have those next summer, but it feels like he has been underused so far during his time at Chelsea as Alvaro Morata was their main man in 2017-18 despite his struggles up front.

Giroud has proven himself as a reliable striker at Chelsea following his move from Arsenal — where he scored 105 goals in 253 appearances and won three FA Cups across six seasons — in January 2018 and helped the Blues win the FA Cup in 2017-18.

He has mainly been used in the Europa League and cup competitions during the 2018-19 season and has scored 10 times in Chelsea’s run to the Europa League final (he is the leading scorer in the competition) against Arsenal next Wednesday.

Giroud has scored 17 times in 62 appearances since making the move across London, which is a decent return considering he has mostly been used as a substitute.

Gonzalo Higuain will likely not be returning for a second spell on loan at Chelsea from Juventus, so Giroud will get more minutes in the 2019-20 campaign and he’s shown he can slot into this Maurizio Sarri side seamlessly. His intelligent hold-up play has seen him develop a telepathic understanding with Eden Hazard and even if Hazard leaves, as expected, this summer, you can see Giroud striking up a similar rapport with Christian Pulisic next season.

Giroud is probably one of the most underrated strikers in the world game, as he is third all-time leading goalscorer for France, behind only Thierry Henry and Michel Platini. If you whip a dangerous cross into the box, he will get on the end of it and often finish it.

Arsenal’s Mkhitaryan to miss Europa League final

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be available to play in the UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea.

The final on May 29 is being held in Baku, Azerbaijan and that country has no diplomatic relations with the country of Mkhitaryan’s birth, Armenia. Hence, Arsenal cannot guarantee the safety of their playmaker who is also the captain of the Armenian national team.

Despite the ambassador assuring Mkhitaryan will be safe, the Gunners have decided he will not be able to travel with the squad over those safety concerns.

“We are very disappointed to announce that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with the squad for our Uefa Europa League final against Chelsea,” the north London club said in a statement.

Due their conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, tensions are high between Azerbaijan and Armenia and Mkhitaryan did not travel for Arsenal’s Europa League game against Qarabag in Azerbaijan earlier this season.

He will now not be available for the final despite being a key part of Arsenal’s run to the Europa League final, which they must win to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. UEFA had previously said they would help with the situation, but this is the latest problem in holding the final in Baku as only 5,000 fans of both Chelsea and Arsenal are expected in the 67,000 capacity stadium due to their being no direct flights and other issues getting to Azerbaijan.

Arsenal released the following statement on the situation regarding Mkhitaryan.

We have thoroughly explored all the options for Micki to be part of the squad but after discussing this with Micki and his family we have collectively agreed he will not be in our travelling party. We have written to Uefa expressing our deep concerns about this situation. Micki has been a key player in our run to the final so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective.

We’re also very sad that a player will miss out on a major European final in circumstances such as this, as it is something that comes along very rarely in a footballer’s career. Micki will continue to be part of our preparations until we depart for Baku at the weekend.

Mkhitaryan responded by saying “it hurts a lot” to miss the final, but added that “we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad.”

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Leave a comment

Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.