To the extent that Christian Pulisic has felt bad about his luck in recent weeks, his mood will have been boosted by two events: Sunday’s performance as man of the match in the FA Cup quarter-final victory. Chelsea on Sheffield United, and his subsequent arrival. at the United States men’s team camp in eastern Austria. There, 16 months after his last international game, he will enjoy a long-awaited opportunity to reconnect with familiar faces and play for a team where his value is unquestionable.
“Regardless of what’s happening at the club level, I’m excited to be here and excited to represent this badge again,” the 22-year-old forward said Wednesday.
What has been happening at the club level has been a major test for a player whose career path and potential seemed limited only by frustratingly frequent muscle problems. Talent was never in doubt. But in late January, Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard as Chelsea manager. Because he knew Pulisic so well from their days together at Borussia Dortmund, Tuchel decided to start by taking a look at different players. He already knew that he could trust Pulisic. But Chelsea started to win and lineup changes are less likely when a team is in good shape. Since Tuchel took office, Chelsea are unbeaten in 14 games in all competitions, and Pulisic had started just twice for Tuchel before getting his chance this weekend. He made the most of it.
Meanwhile, the conversation in England and the US had already begun about whether Pulisic was in Chelsea’s future, or whether his place on Tuchel’s depth chart was permanent. Speaking ahead of Thursday’s friendly against Jamaica in Wiener Neustadt, Pulisic acknowledged his plight but insisted he has not lost faith in his abilities.
“It hasn’t been the easiest, obviously. I’m a guy who always wants to play,” he said.[But] I think I am on a good path. I love taking on challenges. I love proving people, not proving people wrong, but, you know, for myself, proving that I’m right somehow and keep working hard.
“Coming to camp, I’m really excited to have more minutes and play for my country,” he concluded.
Pulisic’s last career with the national team was in the fall of 2019, when the USA played four Concacaf Nations League games against Canada and Cuba. Pulisic started the first two, missed the second pair in November with a hip injury and, thanks to the pandemic, fitness issues and commitments to the club, he has not been on the field since.
Coach of the United States, Gregg Berhalter, obviously will not hold it against him. He is not overly concerned about Pulisic’s time on the Chelsea bench, either. While it’s far from a perfect situation, Berhalter doesn’t see it as a reflection of Pulisic’s skill or form. If anything, it will create a hungrier and more anxious camp participant.
“Ideally, all the players would arrive at camp in top form, right? However, it is not always possible, and these are things that we take into consideration and are thinking about, ”Berhalter said Wednesday.
“We also want to create the kind of environment here that players enjoy coming in and sometimes this can be almost like a start for the player. And it is the case of Christian in this trip ”, continued the manager. “We are very excited to have him at camp. It has been since October 2019: putting him back on the field playing with us is a big step forward. I know he has the resilience to keep going, and I know it’s a matter of time before he breaks through. He is a fantastic player and his qualities will show, as they did in the last FA Cup game we saw.
Pulisic said he’s impressed by the team’s growth since he was last at camp. He has won several new international teammates during that stretch, such as Gio Reyna and Yunus Musah, while other young Americans have started to break through. The team has become more comfortable with Berhalter pressing 4-3-3, and is beginning to look beyond this week’s games against Jamaica and Northern Ireland to the Concacaf Nations League in June, the Gold Cup. and then the start of qualifying for the World Cup in September. .
Pulisic will likely play a big role in the Nations League and qualifying, and hinted that he has what it takes to win more minutes at Chelsea by then.
“I was in a similar situation, I think, when I first came to Chelsea,” he said. “I had to work my way and earn a spot on the team and finally get a few minutes. I feel like I did that, and I feel like I’m basically going to try to do the same thing now. I’m very confident in my form right now and the way I feel and play, so yeah, I think I’m on the right track. “
Another event that is technically on the horizon for Pulisic, and that of many of his peers, is the Olympics. The US Under-23 team is currently in Guadalajara, where they compete in Concacaf’s qualifying competition for this summer’s tournament in Japan. The United States (2-0-0) face Mexico (2-0-0) in the group stage final on Wednesday night and then face a semi-final of life and death on Sunday. If the Americans win that match and qualify, they could theoretically bring a significant chunk of the senior team to Tokyo. The Olympics are an under-23 event (under-24 this year due to the pandemic), and much of Berhalter’s team is of legal age.
Pulisic’s affinity for the ridge would carry over, he said.
“The Olympic Games are something that, of course, it is a great honor to play, and to represent your country in an Olympic Games would be incredible,” he said. “I am also fully supporting the guys who qualify now. It is something that I have thought about and wanted to play. Obviously, I cannot control exactly what happens. And what is best for me at that time and what is best for the team at that time, obviously I can’t say. But it is something I would like to play in. “
It’s an intriguing but unlikely possibility, as Berhalter later explained, after warning everyone not to overlook Sunday’s decisive match. Clubs like Chelsea are not required to release players for non-senior competitions.
“It is not me who answers that question. Those who answer that question are the players’ clubs, ”he said. “We have to sit down and have conversations with these clubs and we have to say ‘OK guys, this is what’s coming up on the calendar: They have the Nations League. You have a Gold Cup. You have the Olympics. You have the qualification for the World Cup in three windows in the fall, and then in 2022 you have January and March. So what do you guys think, do you want to free your players for the Olympics? ‘What are they going to say? It is an uphill battle that we are fighting.
“If we were in a perfect world, there is nothing else I would like to see our best group compete in the Olympics. It would be incredible, ”Berhalter concluded. “I’m not sure that is going to happen. I’m not sure that the clubs are going to allow the players to leave.
If the USA qualifies, and if Berhalter, general manager Brian McBride and USA U23 coach Jason Kreis request Pulisic’s presence in Japan, and if Chelsea bans it, it is not necessarily a bad sign. Pulisic may lose another chance to play for his country, but it probably means Chelsea values him enough to keep him rested and ready for the next Premier League season.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.