LONDON — All eyes from an American perspective will be on Christian Pulisic at Wembley on Thursday as England host the U.S men’s national team in a friendly.
The 20-year-old is growing up fast and he will play for the USMNT for the first time since May, and just the second time in the last 13 months, when he steps onto the pitch in London.
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Due to injuries and being handed a rest over the summer, interim head coach Dave Sarachan hasn’t had Pulisic to call on often. Now, on the big stage against England at the home of soccer, everyone connected with U.S. Soccer is waiting to see if he can lead this young USMNT into a new era.
Since Pulisic broke into tears after the USA’s shock defeat to Trinidad & Tobago — which resulted in their elimination from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in October 2017 — he has played a friendly game against Bolivia. That is it.
Speaking to a small group of U.S. based reporters in west London ahead of the USMNT’s game against England on Thursday, Pulisic was calm and quiet ahead of his return and the Borussia Dortmund star seems to have grown up quite a bit.
“It hasn’t been awkward at all,” Pulisic said when asked about his time away from the team. “Obviously it was super tough, not qualifying [for the World Cup], we would have loved to have been there. We can’t change that now. I’ve had some injuries which made me miss out on some of the games and now I am just super excited to be back with these guys.”
These guys include teenagers Tim Weah and Josh Sargent, plus other young stars Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie but Pulisic is clearly the player the USMNT look to in order to push them on to the next level.
His leadership role is one that is developing and he believes he can now start to carry this team forward with the 2022 World Cup the next major target.
“I mean you know I’ve been a part of this team for the whole qualifying process and now moving forward, some of these guys who weren’t there during that time,” Pulisic said. “I definitely need to be a more important piece of this team and continue to grow as a leader. That support for the team, for myself. Yeah. It’s going to be fun. For me it’s tough because I’m not a very vocal guy, not super outgoing, but I think the biggest thing I can do is lead by example. I want to show these guys how it’s done on a professional level. I want to go in and to be focused every day and in training. I think guys see that, they want to do the same thing.”
Pulisic voiced his belief that the USMNT need to hire a new head coach soon (current Columbus Crew coach Gregg Berhalter is expected to take charge in the coming weeks) despite Sarachan steadying the ship over a turbulent last 12 months.
“We definitely want a permanent coach and someone who has a plan and someone who has an idea of how we want to play moving forward,” Pulisic said. “In the meantime Dave [Sarachan] has also done a good job developing guys and calling guys in and allowing them to be a part of the team as well. It is something I think will definitely happen in the near future.”
In the near future the USMNT will aim to emulate their opponents on Thursday, as a young England team reached the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup.
“England is a great team, I think they surprised a lot of people and had a great World Cup,” Pulisic said. “Yes it’s an inspiration for us. We definitely feel that with the young side that we have that we can also do something like that. That’s the goal for us.”
Pulisic lavished praise on Wayne Rooney, who is being honored during the U.S. game as he wins his 120th and final cap for the Three Lions, with the Pennsylvania native revealing he studied Rooney’s career and hopes to emulate it with the U.S. There are similarities with how Rooney and Pulisic were seen as saviors for their respective soccer nations.
“Yeah I mean a guy like that and has had such a successful career is something that I can I can look at and I want to be just like that,” Pulisic said. “I want to have a long career with wherever I may be that I am doing the best I can. Now he’s ended up in MLS, who knows if I will end up there one day. It’s great to see that and I can definitely look up to a guy like that.”
Never too far from Pulisic’s mind is the fact he is now in a leadership role, along with the likes of Weston McKennie, and he has fast become a figurehead for this new, and very young, USMNT side.
“I think that we have a lot of brave young players and guys who aren’t afraid to come in and show us what they know about the game, what they learned from their clubs. I think that’s really important,” Pulisic said. “Guys can’t come in to be shy and expect us to kind of show them the ropes. They’ve got to come in and they’ve got to show what they can do and be competent with it. I think that’s what makes a great young team.
“Me and Weston are both 20, so it’s not like we’re experienced old guys! We’re in the same boat as a lot of other players. Of course we know, myself especially, have been through a qualifying process, been through stuff like that. So obviously I have more experience in that side of things. So I will help the guys and I try to as much as I can. And Weston will do the same as he has also had some experience, some good Bundesliga experience. We want to help out the young guys who don’t have that as much as we can. We also still have a lot to learn.”
Their latest lesson against England will be a heck of a learning curve for this young U.S. team, and Pulisic is ready to lead the Stars and Stripes.