Christian Pulisic isn’t interested in talking Chelsea. Not this week, and not while he’s enjoying his return to the U.S. Men’s National Team.
You wouldn’t want to talk about Chelsea during USMNT camp either if you were Pulisic, he of the sparse playing time, smothering expectations and growing concern about his role on Frank Lampard’s squad.
Pulisic has no such concerns in USMNT camp, where he remains the crown jewel in Gregg Berhalter’s setup. He has worn a wide smile for much of camp, basking in the good vibes in training sessions that have taken place at George Mason University, where his parents met and were star players.
That might explain why Pulisic sounds so confident heading into the upcoming Nations League matches against Cuba and Canada despite the lack of playing time that has raised the question of just how sharp will he be, given his recent scarcity of minutes.
“I feel the best I ever have. I feel very confident in my game,” Pulisic said on Wednesday. “I’m not going to let any of that affect me. I feel very strong and I’m really looking forward to this game Friday.”
The “that” in Pulisic’s response referred to the disappointment he’s had to feel while spending extensive time on Chelsea’s bench over the past month. He has repeatedly insisted that he is ready for the fight for minutes in Chelsea’s crowded stable of wingers.
His lack of minutes at Chelsea may have some impact on Pulisic’s sharpness, but if there’s a player in USMNT ready to attack the upcoming Nations League matches, it’s Pulisic, who will be eager to get the Americans off to a winning start in Nations League, while also helping the USMNT snap a three-match winless skid.
That rut has come as the USMNT has struggled implementing Gregg Berhalter’s possession-based system, and it led to a frustrated Pulisic sounding off after the September loss to Mexico, criticizing the team’s performance in a 3-0 loss. Remarks Pulisic admitted one month later were made in the heat of the moment.
“Right after the game it’s always hard to judge,” Pulisic said. “Obviously in the moment I wasn’t happy, not just my own performance, but mostly, but the team, it was tough.
“I think looking back on it I think there were actually things we improved on from the last time we played them, even though the scoreline didn’t really reflect that,” Pulisic said. “I think that we still need a little bit of time, but I think we’re getting there. I think we’re still on the right path. I’m still excited for this team and what the future holds.”
The Americans will be expected to manhandle a Cuba side that lost its first two Nations League matches to Canada by a combined score of 7-0, but Pulisic insists neither he or his teammates are going to overlook Cuba, even with a big match looming four days later in Toronto against Canada.
“It’s not going to be an easy match. No game is,” Pulisic said. “We’re going to go in and treat them like a tough opponent and we’re going to go in and try to score as many goals as we can. We want to play the best soccer we can. We cannot take it lightly or that’s when things will go wrong.”
Pulisic knows that all too well. Friday’s match will come almost two years to the day the USMNT suffered its catastrophic World Cup qualifying loss to Trinidad and Tobago, the kind of defeat that will put a lengthy moratorium on overlooking underdogs.
The Americans won’t be overlooking Cuba, but they know Friday will be an opportunity to show off the progress they feel is being made in Berhalter’s system.
“That’s what we’re trying to do. We want to be a team who likes to play,” Pulisic said. “Obviously you can see that in the (Mexico) game. We built out of the back a lot, and I think there were occasions when we did it really well, and there was times when we just need to figure out the right times and the right moments. Obviously it’s just getting more chances and scoring goals is the next step.”