Also, he might be kind of a prick, but we’ll circle back to that.
There isn’t much to feel good about after the USMNT’s last two friendlies before the World Cup. They didn’t score a goal. They didn’t look all that interested for three halves out of four, and for part of the fourth, too. They didn’t really create that many chances either. The questions about the team we had before these games against Japan and Saudi Arabia still remain. And those questions have been around a while, like can anyone be the striker? And what’s going on with the central defense? Also, can anyone replace Yunus Musah? On top of that…ok, this is actually getting pretty depressing now, so maybe we should stop and pick this up again later in the day.
But another question that wasn’t long-standing for the U.S. has popped up. What if Christian Pulisic just isn’t the type of player that can pull the team’s ass out of a sling when it needs it?
It’s been a strange journey for Pulisic ever since he became a Chelsea player. There was a promising first season at Stamford Bridge, but that also came under Frank Lampard, when Chelsea was under a transfer embargo and they didn’t have a big enough squad to contain players that might compete for his spot. Also, pretty much anything went under the overmatched Lamps.
Once Chelsea got a real manager, and once again got back to their heavy spending ways, Pulisic hasn’t been able to lock down a regular spot in the team. His spotty track record of health hasn’t helped, either. He looked pretty desperate to leave this season, though that never got over the line.
It’s also not been the best look that someone not old enough to rent a car decided to promote an autobiography where he was only too happy to kick dirt on the recently fired manager, Thomas Tuchel. It was this kind of thing that got Romelu Lukaku frozen out and eventually punted back to Italy. And Lukaku’s rep is a lot bigger and more earned than Pulisic’s.
When it comes to the national team, Pulisic’s reputation greatly outweighs his accomplishments. We’re five years past his being the only bright spot on the team as it flailed and belched its way out of 2018’s tournament. This time around, he needed to show the way for a team that is filled with kids who haven’t been through all of this before.
Sure, there’s a penalty against Mexico in the Nations League Final in 2021. There’s the opening goal against Mexico in November’s qualifier in Cincinnati. And maybe 20 minutes in the second half in Honduras when the U.S. stormed back from a deficit. But mostly, Pulisic has been hurt or just not all that effective.
While it’s still just a friendly, and one in an empty stadium, the U.S. needed a response after getting pummeled by Japan. And they barely registered one, and there wasn’t much from Pulisic. Except for maybe…
And this has been the story when Pulisic has been in the lineup. He’s nominally a wide forward, but ends up in midfield and central a lot, which is fine if he’s also linking with the other forwards and creating or getting chances to score. That’s just not happening. There’s a disconnect. He’s been only too happy to try and hero-ball his way through three defenders. Or he doesn’t even try to beat any defender, as we saw yesterday. He’s in-between, which he is a lot for Chelsea, too. Not quite direct dribbler breaking down a defense, not quite a link-player weaving moves with passes with his teammates, not quite a late-arriver in the penalty box to evade defenders and score. He hints at all of it, without ever being any of it, which is the same problem he has at Chelsea, and he also might be handling it in the same petulant way he’s handled that:
He wasn’t too much more giving in the postgame either:
“I think we made a couple adjustments in the second half that maybe weren’t particularly needed,” Pulisic said. “I think we kind of weren’t testing them as much in behind, I thought we had some good runs, some good plays in the first half and there was some good flow, especially down the left side. I didn’t feel that as much in the second half for whatever reason.”
This isn’t the time to undermine the manager, especially as captain, because 55 days out there isn’t going to be a change.
Pulisic accomplished so much so early. The first American teenager to light up the Bundesliga. The first to earn a huge-money move to the Premier League. The first to earn a regular role on one of England’s biggest clubs. The Champions League semifinal goal, the winner’s medal. But soccer moves fast, and those are getting distant in the rearview. It’s not unfair to ask if Pulisic really should be in the USMNT’s best 11 if things don’t change in the next seven weeks.
Pulisic would hardly be the first to have the best of his career come before his 23rd birthday, when so much happened. But the U.S. is crying out for something inspirational, something divine when things are rough. It appears, much like Chelsea, Pulisic is only too happy to blame everything around him instead of forcing it into place through his abundant talent and will.
It came easy before. It doesn’t now. What’s he going to do about it?
Aaron Judge walked four times, keeping him short of the record that a lot of people have made up as vitally important. And Yankees fans are getting a little salty about teams ducking him, though they should get used to it as that’s what’s going to happen in the playoffs, too, as they did clinch the AL East last night. There’s no reason to pitch to him, with the rest of the Yanks’ lineup being as spotty as it’s been.
Still, it’s important to always point out Yankees’ hypocrisy:
Maybe karma is real.