SOUTHAMPTON — Chants of “USA, USA!” were heard outside St Mary’s stadium as Christian Pulisic walked towards the Chelsea team bus on Sunday after playing his part in a resounding Premier League win for the Blues.
[ MORE: How do Pulisic perform? ]
The 21-year-old USMNT star came on and grabbed an assist in his first Premier League minutes since August 31, and after a spell on the bench and out of the squad completely last week at Lille in the UEFA Champions League, Pulisic impressed in his brief cameo on England’s south coast.
Pulisic recorded a lovely assist in his 15 minutes on the pitch, cleverly finding Michy Batshuayi to make it 4-1. The celebrations with Batshuayi, his teammates and the coaching staff at the final whistle showed how happy Pulisic is and he was delighted to make an impact after coming on.
“I did the best I could with the minutes I got. I tried to get in and help the team as best I could and I was happy I could do that,” Pulisic said. “I’m happy. I want to continue to work harder and I never want to stop and I want to continue to get more minutes.”
Pulisic jumped on the back of Jorginho after the game and was ecstatic to be back on the pitch and making the most of his minutes. Maybe this stint on the sidelines was what he needed. Maybe this is all part of Frank Lampard’s masterplan.
After telling Pro Soccer Talk it was ‘very frustrating’ to be on the bench as an unused sub in recent weeks, Pulisic was asked if he’s been surprised to be left out after starting plenty of games at the start of the season.
He just wants to do everything he can to make sure he gets on the pitch.
“Of course, as a professional player you want to play, you want to be on the field and be a part of the team as much as you can. It hurt not to be there but I’m happy I got my opportunity today,” Pulisic said. “I want to be starting every game. I’m working hard in training. I want to be there. I hope everyone can see that. With moments like this I hope I can continue to make a case for myself.”
He now has four assists in his last six appearances for Chelsea and leads the Blues in the assist category this season.
Does he feel like he’s performing well when he’s on the ball in the final third?
“That’s my job in an attacking role. I’m going to do the best I can to try to get goals and assists. That has been good so far, so I want to continue to push,” Pulisic added.
Blues manager Frank Lampard has said Pulisic will get his chance but admitted the $73 million addition from Borussia Dortmund has to continue to show up in training. Pulisic agrees with his manager and is eager to impress.
“Frank likes players who work very hard and show a lot in training. I want to be a part of that and I just have to continue to do that, be the best I can be in training and just try to earn my position. That’s all I can do,” Pulisic added.
Has it been tough settling in at Chelsea since his summer move from Dortmund and the Bundesliga?
“Culture wise it has been easier than Germany to be honest,” Pulisic smiled. “From the football side of things, I guess you can say that. Obviously I haven’t been getting as many minutes, like you guys said, but I’m just going to keep going and pushing and I know my time is going to come.”
Some reports in England had suggested that Pulisic may move on in January if he’s not a regular at Chelsea, but he laughed that off too.
“I’m not just going to throw a fit and give up. Ever,” Pulisic laughed. “If I’m on the bench it doesn’t mean the gaffer doesn’t think I’m part of the team. It means that’s what it is right now and I’ve just got to keep pushing and earn my spot.”
With plenty of fans on social media asking why he hasn’t been playing and a huge transfer fee hanging over his head, Pulisic is trying to take it all in his stride and focus on getting better while also battling with Willian, Pedro, Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount for minutes.
“This number doesn’t mean anything to me,” Pulisic said of the transfer fee. “Obviously I go out and try to give my best every time I go out onto the pitch. I’m not sure what that price tag means to you guys, but I’m just going to keep trying to perform as best I can for myself and for the team.”
What about the constant chatter on social media and a little frustration from USMNT fans as to why he’s not starting?
“You can’t completely ignore it. I don’t live under a rock. I hear things and I see things,” Pulisic added. “I do my best to block it out. I’m doing my best for myself because the outside opinions don’t matter as much to me as what’s in the team and myself and the people who care about me. I’m just going to keep working and do my best to not worry about it.”
But through all of the ups and down early on in his Chelsea and Premier League career, Pulisic is glad the likes of Hudson-Odoi, Willian, Pedro and Mount are pushing him to get better.
“Competition in the team is only going to make me better. That’s what makes great teams,” Pulisic said. “Guys who are maybe not the second man or the third man, but they are pushing each other in training every single day. That is what a great team is all about.”
Pulisic is contributing for this Chelsea team as they aim to be great and he’s certainly happy to be back on the pitch and getting minutes and assists.
Chants of “USA, USA!” continued as he signed autographs and posed for photos outside St Mary’s and an American fan yelled: “Christian, we love you baby!”
The great hope of American soccer is battling for minutes at Chelsea with a smile on his face.
He is truly embracing the challenge and if he can contribute regularly, off the bench or from the start, he and Chelsea will be smiling a lot more.