COLUMBUS, Ohio — When the U.S. Men’s National Team took a two-goal lead in the first half vs. Guatemala, the thought of seeing Christian Pulisic make his international debut began to pop into many observers’ heads. It then seemed like a foregone conclusion after the U.S. made it 3-0 a mere seconds after halftime.
Then, in the 81st minute, Pulisic made his way onto the field.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann cap-tied his latest promising youngster on Tuesday night, playing Pulisic in the final few minutes of the Americans’ 4-0 rout of Guatemala. The 17-year-old midfielder replaced Graham Zusi as the U.S.’s final substitute in the World Cup Qualifying match at Mapfre Stadium, and Pulisic’s brief cameo provided fans a brief glimpse of what he is capable of.
It also also allowed Klinsmann to scratch something off his to-do list.
“Our wish was to get Christian Pulisic on the field to get him part of our future,” said Klinsmann. “I think, in (however) many minutes, you saw the talent that he has.”
It always seemed like a foregone conclusion that Pulisic would represent the Americans at the international level after suiting up for only their youth national teams, but his quality caught the eye of Croatia. Pulisic was eligible to play for the European nation prior to Tuesday because his grandfather is from there, and the talented Borussia Dortmund prospect supposedly had spoken to Croatia’s federation in recent months.
Not that Pulisic wanted to disclose any details about that after earning his first U.S. cap.
“We’ll just leave that to the side,” said Pulisic. “You guys know I just played with the U.S., so you don’t have to worry.”
Pulisic could have missed the game against Guatemala, however. He was suffering from a cold a week ago that threatened his availability, but ultimately was deemed healthy enough to travel to the United States. Pulisic joined his compatriots over the weekend, and was included on Klinsmann’s match-day roster for what was essentially a must-win qualifier.
The Hershey, Pennsylvania, native likely would not have seen time on the field if the game had hung in the balance, but was able to earn some minutes given the healthy lead the U.S. had late. His brief stint and the circumstances in which they came may not have been conducive for drawing major conclusions about Pulisic – not that any should be made about a player his age – but the teenager showed small flashes of the confidence and skill that saw him start and play in German Bundesliga games earlier this season.
“When you’re a younger player, you tend to get very nervous and very excited and then you overthink some situations, but he was very calm, very balanced,” said Klinsmann. “I told him, ‘Just do it like you were in Dortmund. Have the same approach. Go at people. No problem if you kind of lose a ball, no issue at all. Just turn around and chase it back.’
“That’s what he did. It’s nice.”
What was nice for Klinsmann was a dream come true for Pulisic, who like any soccer-loving teen has dreamed of playing for his country.
“It’s a big honor that I know the coaches have trust in me to go in to such a big game, and do a good job and just do everything I can to help the team win,” said Pulisic. “It’s great. I was really excited to be a part of this.”
Pulisic will now head back to Borussia Dortmund to continue his development. It is unclear how much playing time he will see during this stretch run in the Bundesliga season given that the club is currently in second place, and just five points off from league leader Bayern Munich.
Whether Pulisic plays or not, his immense potential and experience have many believing that he has a bright future ahead of him. Both for club and for country.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s quiet, he’s humble, and he’s got some fantastic skill,” said centerback Geoff Cameron. “He’s a guy that will be a big player for us eventually. He’s a young kid, so (the media shouldn’t) overblow him up. Just let him do what he does and he’ll be a great talent for us.”