USMNT’s Christian Pulisic awaits World Cup moment


AL RAYYAN, Qatar – Childhood dreams, boundless and exciting, have transformed Christian Pulisic from the youth fields of central Pennsylvania to the perfect fields of the World Cup. They presented him with visions of wearing the USA jersey, while the national anthem was played and teammates lined up in a beautiful line.

Then the fantasy led them to the hands, to an opponent with the stature and opportunity to elevate American football from mid-major to threat.

Fantastic demands are growing. Years pass, marked by great achievements in our fields. The time is coming.

“I have played in some big games. I’ve achieved a lot,” Pulisic said on Wednesday, five days before his expected World Cup debut. “I’ve done a lot of things that I want to do, but the World Cup is something on top of all that, and it’s something when I was a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, 5 to 10 years old, all I could think about. It was the World Cup, he played for the United States team in the World Cup. It was just a dream of my whole life. I’m sure it will be special to get into that moment.”

The Americans’ hopes of making a mark in this competition do not rest entirely on Pulisic; he has a promising, if inexperienced, brigade around him. However, he is the face of this team and both the global focus and the cynical tactics of the opponents.

“I really don’t want to add a comment that will put more pressure on him because he knows what he can do,” said Gio Reyna, a 20-year-old forward. “I know what he can do. The whole team knows what he can do.”

It’s not like Pulisic, a Chelsea striker, has ever played in a top event. He has won the UEFA Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and the German Cup; he also appeared in three English FA Cup finals. In total, he appeared in over 250 matches with two of Europe’s top clubs.

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The Premier League, considered the best proving ground in the world, has been his home since the summer of 2019. He was successful in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund before his US record $73 million move to Chelsea.

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The World Cup, however, is a different beast, a quadrennial event that draws billions of viewers and draws the attention of unsuspecting fans in the United States.

Pulisic was a young player on a veteran squad that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, ending seven consecutive appearances. Although Pulisic was not at fault, he carried the pain, the anger and ultimately the motivation to blame for the United States’ defeat.

His teammates now credit his drive and sense of responsibility to take the program to the next level. Employed by London-based Premier League clubs, Pulisic and Matt Turner, the U.S. team’s starting goalkeeper, have sat next to each other several times on trips to and from U.S. assignments, including this past week.

“We were just talking about it a little bit [the expectations on Pulisic] because I like to get to know people and what makes them tick,” said Turner, who joined Arsenal from MLS’s New England Revolution this summer. “And it’s just exciting. He is excited to be here. He felt the ultimate pain and disappointment [qualifying campaign] very personal, i know. So for him to be here now, he’s excited to go and express himself and be on the world stage.”

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Although he is the best-known player in the United States – and the subject of marketing campaigns and TV commercials – Pulisic said his expectations are not high.

“I’m very excited for this moment,” he said in an interview session with reporters after Wednesday’s training. “This is the pinnacle of a lot of people’s careers, playing in the World Cup, representing their country. That’s what I’m here for. I’m going to do my best and represent this country and I hope I want to make everyone who goes back home proud. That’s all I can really do. And as long as I do that, I can go home proud.”

The US men’s World Cup team will face Wales, Iran and group favorites England in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

Pulisic is a star player in his national team at the World Cup but is a part-time starter for Chelsea. That status has not changed, even after a September coaching change saw Graham Potter replace Thomas Tuchel.

Pulisic has appeared in a total of 13 of 14 Premier League matches but started just three. His only goal came against Wolverhampton Wanderers on 8 October. He started Chelsea’s third League Cup match and appeared in four of six Champions League group stage games, but started just once.

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Nevertheless, Pulisic likes what Potter has brought, saying: “The way he worked with the players and the communication impressed me the most. And the boys accepted him very well. Good things will happen.”

Despite the moderate playing time, Pulisic said he “feels good right now.”

“My form has been really good in recent weeks,” he said. “I got some games in and I continued to work there and prove myself there. Honestly, I feel really strong and I’m ready for this.”

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US coach Gregg Berhalter would have preferred Pulisic to log minutes before the World Cup. Still, “we know the qualities that bring Christianity,” he said.

Game time cuts both ways for Qatar-bound players. With only a one-week gap between the suspended leagues and the start of the World Cup, players who regularly started for their clubs were more vulnerable to injury. Several standouts, including Pulisic’s Chelsea teammate N’Golo Kante, will miss the tournament.

Pulisic suffered a scare in his last game on November 12, when a Newcastle player lunged at him. As the main player for the United States, he will certainly face the same challenges in the Group B game against Wales, England and Iran.

He said he was not aware of the danger involved until he watched the video later.

“I saw a guy come and try to double-foot me and I just thought, ‘Wow, if he connects, he’s going to milk it,'” Pulisic said. “What can you do? I’m playing the game. I’m passionate. I’m in the game. I want to win.”

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With the Premier League now at a standstill, a childhood dream is getting closer.

“All those emotions, you’re not ready, I guess,” Pulisic said. “He always hits you. It hits you and you feel it. You feel that the big moments are coming every day. In bed at night when the day is approaching, you feel a little more.”

The United States men’s national team will be one of the youngest teams at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and will feature many new players at the global tournament. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

Note: Right back Sergiño Dest was limited in Wednesday’s training session as team officials manage his workload. He was substituted due to knee fatigue before coming on as a sub for AC Milan in a league match on 13 November. …

About 1,000 representatives of the US Embassy and two US military bases in Qatar were invited by Berhalter to observe the practice. Berhalter and midfielder Weston McKennie, the son of an American soldier, addressed the crowd.


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