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USMNT’s Pulisic reflects on big night; Lalas’ comments

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WEMBLEY — His 19th birthday is next week. Remember that.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Christian Pulisic put in yet another superb display for Borussia Dortmund but they lost 3-1 to Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

Speaking in the mixed zone afterwards, a downbeat Pulisic, 18, reflected on his display as he tore Tottenham apart in the first half, had a goal disallowed and battled against the best defense in the Premier League.

He wants those calls back as Dortmund had a second, more contentious, goal chalked off for offside.

“Things didn’t go our way and that’s how the sport is sometimes. We had to take some other chances but things didn’t go our way with decisions and other things,” Pulisic said. “I have to see them again but my goal in the first half, I guess Auba was off but he didn’t touch it. I don’t know if he was offside. The second one I didn’t think was offside. Obviously refs make mistakes and the game just changed after that.”

Pulisic was everywhere in the first half, giving both Serge Aurier and Toby Alderweireld a tough time from the left but he told Pro Soccer Talk he still wants to do better.

“I always tried to bring confidence to the game. I still need to do more and create goals and score goals. I couldn’t do it today,” Pulisic said.

Pulisic started out on the left and had plenty of touches early on, ghosting between Serge Aurier and Toby Alderweireld. His run and cross led to an attack which eventually saw Andriy Yarmolenko curl in a stunner for Dortmund’s opener. In the 19th minute Pulisic cut inside and his shot deflected off Alderweireld and went out for a corner.

The Kid kept going.

He then raced clear on the half hour mark and his cross to the back post towards Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang was brilliantly cleared by Jan Vertonghen. A great chance then arrived for Pulisic with Aubemayang the provider but the Hershey, PA native couldn’t get enough on his effort as he stretched to get on the end of the cross.

Right on half time Dortmund could have been level with Pulisic scoring at the back post as he controlled and finished calmly.

The offside flag was up way before he finished, but although Aubameyang appeared to be in an offside position he didn’t touch the ball. The jury is out as to whether or not he was interfering with play.

That was the kind of night it was and Pulisic is getting used to it.

“This is how professional soccer is now. Of course it’s a lot for me, it’s my first year, but now my second year playing this many games,” Pulisic said. “I’m getting used to it. My body is okay. It is how it is. I always prepare myself to play every single game.”

With the season in full flow with Dortmund as they chase a Bundesliga title and aim to get back on track, the USMNT’s crucial World Cup qualifiers next month are never far from his mind.

“Obviously now I am focusing on Dortmund. We have big games coming up. But it’s there,” Pulisic admitted. “We have to do everything we can and I am going to do everything I can do to help us qualify.”

Over the weekend Fox Soccer analyst Alexi Lalas called out Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore to step up for the USA.

He also rounded on Pulisic, saying “even you, wonder boy” when asking the U.S. to win key World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago next month. What did Pulisic think about Lalas’ comments?

“I heard about it. I am not going to lose sleep about what Alexi Lalas has to say about us. He can say what he wants,” Pulisic laughed.

The Kid is growing up.

Before kick off Pascal Girwert was walking down Wembley Way with a beer in his hand, his friends by his side and Christian Pulisic’s name and number on the back of his Dortmund jersey.

“He is a very, very, very big talent. Now that Ousmane Dembele has left us, he has a place in our team for every match. We are very happy to have him,” Girwert, a Dortmund fan who had traveled to London for the game, explained.

Are Dortmund worried about him leaving as his star continues to rise?

“Dortmund is the biggest thing he can reach!” Girwert laughed. “I love that he is very happy at Dortmund. He likes to play and doesn’t want to move. That makes us very sympathetic to him. We are very happy to have him.”

After the game Dortmund’s coach Peter Bosz was very complimentary when asked by Pro Soccer Talk about his teenage talent.

“He is a huge talent and I still see room for progression. This is not the end of his journey,” Bosz said. “He has a lot of quality. He shows us in training and also showed it in the game. He is still 18. Big talent.”

With Pulisic’s cousin, Will, in Dortmund’s youth team as a goalkeeper last season, the fans at Dortmund are quite eager to help nurture more young American players.

“It would be brilliant for Dortmund to have more American kids to come to us, but also for American soccer. He usually plays off the right for us. It is a very good position for him. I think the quality of the Dortmund team is much better than the USA national team, so maybe that’s why he plays in the middle,” Girwert chuckled.

He, Pulisic and the rest of Dortmund’s fans weren’t chuckling at the end of the game as Spurs ran out winners but the teenager from Pennsylvania can take solace from the fact that he tormented one of the best defenses in the Premier League multiple times.

Every time you watch him in a big game he steps up and there is plenty more to come from the kid who turns 19 next week.

Reflecting on a short stint when he trained with Tottenham as a youngster over a decade ago while his family moved to England for a year, Pulisic was reflective about how far he’d come in such a short period of time.

“Those were great times,” Pulisic said. “It is pretty crazy playing at Wembley for the first time and it is pretty special, coming this far.”

Just how wrong? Revisiting Premier League predictions

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Own it.

That’s how I look at Premier League predictions. When you’re right, be happy about your good fortune. When you’re wrong, raise your hand.

But there’s another level to it: Why was I right or wrong? Did a team let me down, or did I vastly overrate/underrate their potential?

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

Twenty months ago I pegged Burnley to get relegated with an almost record-low amount of points. The Clarets qualified for the Europa League, and I ate my words (even if Sean Dyche‘s men seemingly out-performed every metric on Earth in spite of stats, like some old man claiming Man City wins because of “better chemistry, not talent”).

Cardiff City
Predicted finish: 20
Actual finish: 18

How wrong was I? Not. As much credit as the Bluebirds got for grinding every week, and as much of a difference as the late Emiliano Sala could’ve been to their fortunes, they completed passes at an almost absurdly-bad 63.9 percent rate while having just 39.1 percent of the ball. It was bad.

Huddersfield Town
Predicted finish: 19
Actual finish: 20

How wrong was I? Not. Huddersfield Town managed a league-worst .4 attempts per game from inside the six-yard box, and were one of only five teams to attempt less than six shots per game from inside the 18.

Watford
Predicted finish: 18
Actual finish: 11

How wrong was I? Pretty wrong. Javi Gracia‘s men were strong against bad teams — for the most part — but never sprung another real upset after beating Spurs to go 4-0 early in the season. Record against the Top Six? 1W-0D-11L.

Bournemouth
Predicted finish: 17
Actual finish: 14

How wrong was I? Eh. The Cherries were never really in trouble thanks to a 6-2-2 start, but man did they ride their luck.

Burnley
Predicted finish: 16
Actual finish: 15

How wrong was I? I’ve learned my lesson. Regardless of how much talent appears to be on a Sean Dyche roster, he’s a rich man’s Tony Pulis and should not be doubted.

The face Sean Dyche makes before he fist fights an entire village. Terrifying. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Southampton
Predicted finish: 15
Actual finish: 16

How wrong was I? With respect to Mark Hughes, I thought Saints’ season would come down to when he was sacked and who they identified to replace him. Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s in a good place.

Brighton and Hove Albion
Predicted finish: 14
Actual finish: 17

How wrong was I? A bit wrong, and I pretty much blame Pascal Gross, who back slid from 7 goals and 8 assists in his Premier League debut to just three and three in Year No. 2. The Seagulls didn’t score a single goal from outside the 18.

Wolves
Predicted finish: 13
Actual finish: 7

How wrong was I? It’s not simply about buying players — see: Fulham — but about acquiring hungry players. Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota, and several others had points to prove, and Jimenez especially made it well.

Newcastle United
Predicted finish: 12
Actual finish: 13

How wrong was I? To be honest, this went about as I expected given the brutal fixture list to start the season. Had I known Miguel Almiron would’ve transitioned so nicely from MLS to the PL, I might’ve had them 10th.

 (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Fulham
Predicted finish: 11
Actual finish: 19

How wrong was I? Very, but to my defense so were most people. On paper, the Cottagers improved more than even Wolves.

Crystal Palace
Predicted finish: 10
Actual finish: 12

How wrong was I? The stats kinda back me up, and it may be worth noting for next season that the Palace’s results didn’t match its performances. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luka Milivojevic, and Wilfried Zaha gave them difference makers in all thirds of the field, and it’s surprising they didn’t push a bit higher on the table.

Leicester City
Predicted finish: 9
Actual finish: 9

How wrong was I? Not. The Foxes were pretty infuriating all year. Maybe Brendan Rodgers‘ ego and power will match the player power that’s run the club since they won the title. That said, the inconsistency and tumult shouldn’t be a surprise in a season the club had to deal with its owner dying on a match day.

West Ham United
Predicted finish: 8
Actual finish: 10

How wrong was I? Not really. I thought it would take Manuel Pellegrini some time to put his men together, but I didn’t predict the Irons would get a total of 37 appearances from Andriy Yarmolenko, Jack Wilshere, Manuel Lanzini, and Carlos Sanchez.

Everton
Predicted finish: 7
Actual finish: 8

How wrong was I? It took Marco Silva longer than expected to get his men humming, but think of this: If Jordan Pickford doesn’t give Divock Origi a derby winner, Everton is going to Europe. I know, I know… chaos theory. But still.

Richarlison (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur
Predicted finish: 6
Actual finish: 4

How wrong was I? Like many, I was stunned that Spurs didn’t spend this summer and thought injuries would hurt them. They did, but only to the extent that Tottenham wasn’t able to sustain a title challenge. Spurs rarely gave the ball away, and the only teams that averaged fewer “times dispossessed” than Tottenham’s 9.2 per 90 were teams that never had the ball: Brighton, Cardiff, and Burnley.

Arsenal
Predicted finish: 5
Actual finish: 5

How wrong was I? Spot-on. It was going to take time for the Gunners to come together following a first managerial change in ages, but Arsenal had the offense to challenge for the Top Four. Surprisingly for Arsenal, they averaged just eight dribbles per game, 12th in the PL. Unai Emery had them more cautious than usual.

Chelsea
Predicted finish: 4
Actual finish: 3

How wrong was I? Not. Maurizio Sarri is not for everyone, but he knows how to get results. Granted Gonzalo Higuain was his guy, but he did it without a top striker.

Liverpool
Predicted finish: 3
Actual finish: 2

How wrong was I? Well, considering the Reds had one of the best runners-up finishes of all-time, quite wrong. Mostly, I didn’t expect Mohamed Salah to deliver again and he mostly did (save for a late winter slump).

Manchester United
Predicted finish: 2
Actual finish: 6

How wrong was I? Real wrong. Almost as wrong as United looks for canning Jose Mourinho. The manager needed to leave town, but there was a reason he was playing so packed-in. Ask yourself this: If Ed Woodward gave Mourinho the use of Toby Alderweireld, would Spurs and United be flipped?

Manchester City
Predicted finish: 1
Actual finish: 1

How wrong was I? On point. How good was City? For a club that ranked No. 1 in possession, they were only dispossessed 10.3 times per match. That was the 8th fewest total in the league.

Towsend smash v. Man City win Goal of Season (video)

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Even Vincent Kompany‘s thunderbolt couldn’t stop Andros Townsend from winning the Premier League’s Goal of the Season.

The winner was chosen by a public vote combined with a “panel of experts,” according to Crystal Palace’s web site.

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

Townsend walked onto a popped-up headed clearance well outside the 18 and smashed a volley home against Manchester City three days before Christmas.

Palace posted this quote from Townsend, “Everything about the game, the opponent, the strike, it was perfection. I think it was a strike like that needed to beat the champions away from home. I’m thankful it kind of dropped nicely for my left foot, I hit it clean and the rest is history.”

The goals were similar, and Townsend does have a knack for scoring beauties. Perhaps it shows something that beating Man City stands out a bit more to voters and the panel than a defender scoring for the champions. We think Kompany’s was a tiny bit better, but we’ll forgive the voters.

Sky: Chelsea set to appoint Cech as sporting director

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Petr Cech is staying in London.

The longtime Chelsea goalkeeper is set to return to the club as sporting director following Arsenal’s Europa League Final against… well… Chelsea.

Cech, 37, is calling time on his legendary playing career and will not simply be drumming into the sunset.

[ MORE: Man Utd nears $20m signing ]

He’ll return to a club with which he earned 15 trophies including two Champions Leagues. The three-time Best European Goalkeeper also won three trophies with Arsenal.

It would be pretty surprising if Unai Emery selected him over Bernd Leno for the final in Azerbaijan, but Cech is certainly respected worldwide and will be the type of personality to bring some stability to Chelsea.

Will he have to hire a manager, though?

Pulisic “would love to become” like Hazard

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Christian Pulisic has barely spent a couple of days in Chelsea blue, but he’s already got his eyes on one of the club’s icons.

“It is incredible to see what Eden can do,” said Pulisic in an interview with BBC Sport. “He is a guy to look up to and what I would love to become. It is definitely a goal. Any player would be dumb not to want to be in the same team as him.”

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

Pulisic may not get that chance, with Hazard expected by many to join Real Madrid this summer, but he will become the highest profile American in the Premier League when next season begins in August.

The BBC asked the 20-year-old USMNT star about being the flag bearer for American soccer, the golden boy for a nation of young players.

“I don’t want to be looked at as someone who is the youngest to do this or that. I just want to be an established player and someone people respect, who is successful in this league.”

“It is completely new to me and something not a lot of American players have experienced. It is a blessing to be in this position, so I can inspire American kids, to show them we can do it too.”

Pulisic says he’s confident Chelsea can quickly close the gap on Liverpool and Manchester City.