Christian Pulisic didn’t have to wait long for another chance to face Mexico. Two months is the short time between July’s Gold Cup final loss to El Tri and Friday night’s rematch at Met Life Stadium.
Plenty has changed for him in that short time though. He has completed his move from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea, and is enjoying a smooth transition to his new club. He is also looking at the likelihood that he will be deployed in a new role for the U.S. Men’s National Team after spending his first matches for Gregg Berhalter deployed in a central role.
Pulisic heads into Friday’s match in a confident mood, no doubt driven by his successful start to his time at Chelsea, where he is enjoying life at a new club and in a new league.
“It’s amazing. It’s everything I hoped it would be, and more,” Pulisic said of his Chelsea move. “It’s incredible. They’ve helped me so much over there just getting accustomed to everything. It’s been great learning under Frank (Lampard), playing with top players in the Premier League. It’s incredible. I’m still learning a lot and a long way to go, but it’s been great so far.”
Pulisic’s record-setting transfer to Chelsea took place in January, but with it including a loan that kept him at Borussia Dortmund for the second half of last season, Pulisic didn’t begin his Premier League journey until August. After a successful stint in the Bundesliga, Pulisic has found the transition to playing in England to be an easy one.
“It’s not like a huge difference where it’s something you really notice,” Pulisic said. “The speed, it’s very intense, the games are very intense. Every single game I’ve played so far as had a new challenge. It’s great, and I’m learning a lot.”
Chelsea has endured a stuttering start to the new Premier League season under new coach and club legend Frank Lampard, but one of the bright spots so far has been Lampard’s integration of young players, such as Pulisic, Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount. Lampard’s handling of his young talents has helped make early fears about Pulisic’s transfer to Chelsea a distant memory.
“It worked out really well for sure. Frank’s a great guy and he’s helped me so much, and he understands where I’m coming from,” Pulisic said. “He’s done a really good job and helped me, teaching us, especially a lot of the younger guys on the team. Also mixing well with some of the more experienced guys and it’s been a pleasure to work with him. “
Pulisic is reportedly set to leave USMNT camp after Friday’s friendly against Mexico, meaning he won’t face Uruguay in St. Louis on Tuesday, but Friday’s match should offer a glimpse of Pulisic in a new role in Berhalter’s system.
After playing predominantly as one of the dual attacking midfielders in central midfield, Pulisic is expected to work on the wing against Mexico, in a role closer to the one he plays at Chelsea, and played at Borussia Dortmund.
“I’m very comfortable in both positions,” Pulisic said. “I like playing wide, I like playing in any of the attacking positions that can give me a chance to create, score goals and get assists and just help my team win in that way. I’ll be comfortable wherever I fit in.”
Berhalter didn’t confirm the position switch, but Pulisic being listed as a forward on the roster as opposed to as a midfielder seems to suggest the change is coming, at least for Friday’s match. Berhalter did confirm that where he deploys Pulisic can be influenced by the opponent, and Friday should provide the USMNT coach with an opportunity to see how Pulisic would operate as a wide player against El Tri.
“It does have to do with the structure of the opponent, no question,” Berhalter said. “We want to put him in position to help our team. He’s got a great skill set. He’s a game-changer and we want to put him in position to get the ball and hurt the opponent. Part of it is looking at how the opponent plays. Part of it is looking at what could be a good matchup, or how to unbalance the opponent.”
Though it won’t have the stakes on the line that last July’s Gold Cup final did, Friday’s friendly will have the added spice provided by the rivalry, and the added incentive of being able to help rinse out some of the bad taste left by July’s Gold Cup final defeat.
“I’m taking it very seriously,” Pulisic said. “Obviously, it was a disappointment, a tough one in the final. We wanted to win that one bad. The best thing is we have a second chance now. We’re excited for it.”