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After shining in debut against Mexico, Pulisic eager for next taste of ‘intense’ rivalry

Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

Mexico is, and probably always will be, the biggest game on the U.S. Men’s National Team schedule. As kickoff approached and anticipation continued to build ahead of Friday nights’ clash, the focus turned towards the stands as USMNT supporters unveiled a giant tifo depicting America’s 18-year-old prodigy.

For many, a display so large would be accompanied by immeasurable pressure. These fans, some who have followed this team since well before he was born, were there to see a young prospect playing his first true international rivalry match. But for Christian Pulisic, Friday was just another step, even if it proved a pretty painful one.

Pulisic experienced the U.S. Men’s National Team’s rivalry with Mexico for the first time on Friday night, and the Borussia Dortmund prospect was asked to be much more than just a passenger. Given freedom to roam in what turned out to be an ill-advised decision to start in a 3-4-3, Pulisic was selected to be the USMNT’s primary creative outlet in his biggest international test. There was no time to be a bystander, even if the game was one that would prove to be much too big for most 18-year-old professionals.

It was a lot of pressure, even for the shoulders of a player that has shined as bright as Pulisic. Yet, the youngster thrived, even if his team sunk to a frustrating 2-1 defeat to their heated rivals.

“I’m just really disappointed not to come out with at least a point,” Pulisic said. “It’s always exciting to be a part of this team and, getting the start, I was happy. I didn’t do enough to help us get the three points.

“It just took us some time to get into the game,” he added. “We were really good and strong in the second half. It was a very good performance. We did not deserved to lose that, to concede that goal at the end.”

Pulisic wasn’t surprised or overwhelmed with what was asked of him. The young playmaker said he was used to several looks from training and, when the lineup was revealed, he felt more than prepared for the task at hand.

It showed. Throughout Friday’s match, Pulisic routinely looked to be the most confident USMNT player on the field, even as he played alongside players with many more Mexico clashes under their belt. The forward routinely drove at the Mexico defense with strong, determined runs, while proving one of the more dangerous passers inside the Mexico half.

Mexico was alert to the danger, as one would expect. The 18-year-old was fouled hard twice, as Mexico did whatever it could to fluster the young playmaker.

That’s not to say Friday was without growing pains. Pulisic’s first few touches were a bit heavy, a sign of potential nervousness from a player still adjusting to the world’s stage. His passing was not always completely crisp as he, like the rest of the USMNT, had moments of indecision throughout the match.

However, as a whole, Pulisic did more than enough to impress, and was one of the lone USMNT players to actually do so.

“I think Christian handled it pretty well,” said USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “He’s trying to find his openings, find his areas to explode and take people on. I think he did very well. He had the freedom to roam, at least in the system with the 3-4-3, either way, left, right middle. He’s going to play off of the two strong strikers and I’m definitely sure we’ll see it once in awhile, that system, because it suits us.

“In the second half, he had some very good moments. I think you can see his quality and the talent that is there and we’ll just take it one step at a time.”

Friday was likely not the last time Pulisic will see Mexico in his career. Wearing the No. 10 jersey, Pulisic continues to assert himself as the face of a new generation, one that continues to slowly leap into the USMNT picture.

Still, Friday was a vital lesson, one that Pulisic will never forget. At times, it was difficult and, at times, it was painful, but it was a day that already has Pulisic relishing his next chance to shine under the brightest lights.

“It’s what I expected,” Altidore said of the young star. “He’s a kid that’s fearless, has all of the ability in the world. I thought he was terrific tonight. It’s not an easy game to come in and start, especially at that age and I thought he handled himself very well.”

“It was a lot of fun to play in an intense game like that,” Pulisic added. “I’m hoping to play in plenty more of them. It was a good time.”


  1. From ESPN:
    When asked why he decided to go with the formation, Klinsmann said, “We trained that [formation] and it went really well in training.” Klinsmann added it had nothing to do with Mexico’s approach.

    So actually, no, the formation change had nothing to do with Mexico and everything to do with jurgen thinking he is smarter than he really is.

    Do any of y’all listen to the total soccer show? They made the observation that it was Bradley and Jones, during the Guardado injury, who went over to the sidelines and demanded Jurgen change the formation. ESPN noticed it, too:
    “When Mexico midfielder Andres Guardado went down injured in the 26th minute, it was like a boxer being saved by the bell. It allowed both Bradley and Jones to walk over to Klinsmann and plead with him to change the formation. Bradley barely hesitated when asked who suggested the formation change, Klinsmann or the players: “I think ultimately it was among us all. It was clear that it made sense to change.”

    Loosely translated, it was the players. Credit Klinsmann for going along with it, but he never should have put his team in such an awkward situation in the first place.”

    So yeah, the coach is supposed to put players in a position to succeed. He didn’t do that. Don’t blame the players when a coach with a track record of this nonsense screws the team over in the first game of the hex with no tactical instruction and a new formation. It didn’t matter if Bradley, Jones, Jozy, or whoever else our fan base likes to beat up on had the games of their lives. When your own coach sabotages the effort, little else matters.

    • Your final paragraph would be true if he had stuck to the 352. We equalized and had 40 minutes in a formation that everyone should be comfortable in (save Besler I suppose, but he did fine until his legs gave way to a fresh Lozano). The other 10 players were playing exactly where they have played for both club and country, they had the moment, the crowd behind them and plenty of the ball and couldn’t come through. So you can blame the game entirely on the manager either.

      It wouldn’t have taken the game of their lives, Pulisic muffed a chance he would at least usually get on frame early that would have changed the entire game, Bradley inexcusably shoots when he has the easy pass to Wood for a sure goal, Jozy and Fj both had free kicks that if they curl just a foot further from the keeper are in. Yes we could have lost 4-1, but we certainly could have won 3 or 4 to 1.

  2. @ Chris – I agree that I was unconfortable with the change. But thats why you pay coaches. To study the opponent and your team and make the tough calls. That being said, thats why they get fired, making tough calls that dont work. But NONE OF THAT absolves Bradley of his very poor game. He constantly gave time and space to the Mexican midfielders, turned the ball over regularly, and rarely “picked out the right pass” as is supposed to be his strength.

    If I am honest, I have to say JK’s decision was a bad one, without a doubt. But you may want to consider looking at the players a little more. Ultimately they have to make adjustments and play. MB was bad, and has been since his injury before his return to MLS. Gonzo was ok defensively but lu,ped the ball forward numerous times. I love John Brooks, and I think he will be a stud for many years, but he has to mark Rafa on the corner. He failed, we lost. Man on the back post doesnt keep that goal out, just my opinion.

    • @Byrdman nails it. They practiced this formation for the entire camp to counter the Mexican formation and JK is right the CM pairing failed to play to expectations in that formation. After that MB failed to play to expectations in his “comfort” role. We are getting nearer to a good lineup but some of the old are showing they have to go.
      I am not going to blame JJ for much, her wasn’t 100% and still poured his heart out. I suspect he was scheduled to be swapped out and the Howard injured scrubbed that plan.

      • Biggest game of the campaign was not the time to try this, even if they worked on it for a few practices beforehand.

  3. I’ll be bold and say that Bradley lost the game for us. Aside from two great defensive tackles, he gave the ball away on countless occasions. His failure to slip the ball to Bobby Wood in the box was the telling moment. I know many of you will disagree, but I think it is time for him to be benched. Who knows; maybe it will get him back in form.

    Christian Pulisic, Timmy Chandler, and Bobby Wood were the standouts on the night.

    • Screw being bold. Let’s be honest and astute in our analysis and say that our dingbat coach’s tinkering and lack of tactical preparation lost us the game. Nobody on the back post on a corner with 5 minutes left? New formation we’ve only played 45 minutes over 5 years to start the hex? Poorly defined roles for all players? That’s the coach, bud, and if you can’t see that, well, a new pair of glasses won’t help you.

      • Every article and analysis has been about Klinsmann’s failed system last night. Obviously it hurt us. But the points I made came after the formation switch. The guys on the field have to do the right things with the ball. If you can’t see that, we’ll, you need to go back to primary school, pal.

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