USMNT’s Christian Pulisic awaits World Cup moment

COMMENTARY

AL RAYYAN, Qatar – Childhood dreams, wild and exciting, transported Christian Pulisic from the youth fields of central Pennsylvania to the pristine fields of the World Cup. They offered him visions of wearing a USA jersey, hand over heart as the national anthem boomed and teammates lined up in a neat row.

Then the fantasy took him to the beginning, to a highly respected opponent and to the opportunity to elevate American soccer from the middle of the great to a threat.

Fantastic aspirations ripen. Years pass, marked by great achievements in our arenas. The moment is coming.

“I played in some big matches. I have achieved a lot,” Pulisic said on Wednesday, five days before his much-anticipated World Cup debut. “I’ve done a lot of things I want to do, but the World Cup is something above all, and it’s something when I was a kid in Pennsylvania growing up, 5 to 10 years old, all I thought about. it was a World Cup, playing for Team USA in a World Cup. This has been just a dream all my life. I’m sure going in at that moment will be special.”

The USA’s 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 the focus of global attention and cynical tactics of opponents.

“I 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 striker. “I know what he can do. The whole team knows what they can do.”

It’s not like Pulisic, a Chelsea FC striker, has never played at a senior event. He has won the UEFA Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and the German Cup; he also featured in three FA Cup finals. In total, he has appeared in more than 250 matches with two well-known European clubs.

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The Premier League, considered the world’s best testing ground, has been his home since the summer of 2019. Before a record $73 million move to Chelsea, he excelled with Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.

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The World Cup, however, is a different animal, a once-in-four-year test that draws billions of viewers and captures the attention of casual fans in the United States.

Pulisic was a young player in a veteran squad that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, ending a run of seven consecutive appearances. Although Pulisic was not to blame, he carried the pain, the anger and ultimately the motivation to atone for the USA’s failure.

His current teammates appreciate his drive and sense of responsibility to push the program to the next level. Employed by London-based Premier League clubs, Pulisic and Matt Turner, the likely starting goalkeeper for the US team, have sat next to each other several times on trips to and from US assignments, including last weekend.

“We were talking a little about [the expectations on Pulisic] because I like to get to know people and what makes them different,” said Turner, who joined Arsenal last summer from the New England Revolution in MLS. “And he’s just excited. He is excited to be here. He felt the pain and heartache of the end [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 most popular player in the US – and the subject of marketing campaigns and TV ads – Pulisic said expectations are not burdensome.

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“I’m very excited right now,” he said during an interview session with reporters after practice on Wednesday. “This is the pinnacle of many people’s careers, playing in a World Cup, representing their country. That’s what I’m here to do. I will do my best and represent this country and hopefully make everyone at home proud. That’s all I can really do. And as long as I do that, I can walk home with pride.”

The USA 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 enters the World Cup as a star in his national team, but a part-time starter for Chelsea. That status has not changed, even after a coaching change in September saw Thomas Tuchel replaced by Graham Potter.

Pulisic has featured in 13 of 14 Premier League games overall, but has made just three starts. His only goal came against Wolverhampton on 8 October. He started Chelsea’s League Cup tie and appeared in four of six Champions League group stage matches, but started just once.

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However, Pulisic likes what Potter has brought, saying: “The way he has worked with the players and communicated has impressed me the most. And the boys have received it quite well. There will be good things.”

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

“My form has been really good in the last few weeks,” he said. “I played a few games and I continue to work there and prove myself there. Honestly, I feel very strong and prepared for this.”

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USA coach Gregg Berhalter would have preferred Pulisic to make major cuts minutes before the World Cup. However, “we know the qualities that Christian brings,” he said.

Game time cuts both ways for Qatari-bound players. With just a week between the leagues being suspended and the start of the World Cup, players who started regularly for their clubs were more vulnerable to being sidelined by injury. Several players, including Chelsea team-mate N’Golo Kante, will miss the tournament.

Pulisic avoided a scare in his final game before the break last Saturday when a Newcastle player got upset at him. As the USA’s main player, he will undoubtedly face the same challenges in Group B against Wales, England and Iran.

He said he didn’t realize the danger involved until he saw the video afterwards.

“I saw a big moment of a guy coming in and trying to two-foot me and I’m just thinking, ‘Wow, if it connects, that would be bad,'” 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 on break, a childhood dream is now approaching.

“All those emotions, you’re not ready for it, I think,” Pulisic said. “It always hits you. It hits you and you feel it. You feel the big moments coming every day. Lying in bed at night when a day approaches, you feel a little better.”

The U.S. Men’s National Team will be one of the youngest teams at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and will feature many young players on the world tour. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

records: Right back Sergiño Dest had limited involvement in Wednesday’s training session as team officials manage his workload. He was sidelined due to fatigue before coming on as a sub on Sunday for AC Milan. …

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

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