'Crushed' Christian Pulisic questions US development after World Cup failure

Guardian sport
The Guardian
  • Player says US talent exists but playing in Europe helps

  • Borussia Dortmund star confident USA will reach next World Cup

<span class="element-image__caption"><a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/christian-pulisic/" data-ylk="slk:Christian Pulisic">Christian Pulisic</a> (centre) must wait for an opportunity to appear at a World Cup. </span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: T/isiphotos.com/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Christian Pulisic (centre) must wait for an opportunity to appear at a World Cup. Photograph: T/isiphotos.com/Rex/Shutterstock

Christian Pulisic has spoken out on his dismay at USA’s failure to reach next year’s World Cup, as well as addressing the level of football talent in America.

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Pulisic, who plays for Borussia Dortmund, has been able to ply his trade in the EU since he was 16 because he has dual US-Croatian citizenship. He believes it is not a lack of talent that holds US soccer back but rather a lack of opportunity.

“Why is it that EU players are allowed to move country once they turn 16 … but non-Europeans can only do so at 18?” he writes on the Players’ Tribune. “Why aren’t we campaigning for a level playing field, where our best 16 year olds – who may not have an EU passport like I had – are free to move when they turn 16, like the best young players in Europe can? And in the meanwhile, as long as some of our best young players aren’t getting the opportunity like I had to go to Europe when they’re 16 … are we doing everything in our power to make sure the level of play in US soccer is high enough so that they can continue to develop up to their maximum potential?

In his article, Pulisic plays down comments from people who see him as the saviour of US soccer: “I’m not a prodigy – or a ‘wonderboy,’ as some have put it.” Instead, while conceding he was born with some natural talent, he says that his experience of going to Europe young helped him develop.

“In the US system, too often the best player on an under-17 team will be treated like a ‘star’ – not having to work for the ball, being the focus of the offense at all times, etc – at a time when they should be having to fight tooth and nail for their spot,” writes Pulisic.

“In Europe, on the other hand, the average level of ability around you is just so much higher. It’s a pool of players where everyone has been ‘the best player,’ and everyone is fighting for a spot – truly week in and week out. Which makes the intensity and humility that you need to bring to the field every day – both from a mental and physical perspective – just unlike anything that you can really experience in US developmental soccer. Without those experiences, there’s simply no way that I would be at anywhere close to the level that I am today.”

Pulisic concedes leaving behind a support network in the US is not the right decision for everyone but raises concerns about opportunities for young players in America. “It really does frustrate me, when I watch MLS, and I see our best U-17 players – who, again, are so talented and so capable – being rostered … but then not being put on the field much to actually play. I watch that, and I just think about how I was given a chance … a real chance … and it changed my life.”

Living in Germany, Pulisic has seen the effects a World Cup can have on a culture in which football is the dominant sport. “If your city’s club team is having success, or if your national team is having success, there’s just this amazing sense of personal pride that comes with it. I saw a spark of that [with Clint Dempsey’s goal against Ghana at the 2014 World Cup] — it almost felt like that one moment changed the mood of the entire country. And it’s hard to put into words how powerful that is. Which is why I feel so crushed that we won’t be giving people that feeling this summer.”

Pulisic, who turned 19 in September, will have many more opportunities to play in World Cups, and ends his article on a positive note. “I think – I hope – that we’re going to be able to build something, here, with US Soccer, where it’s not just going to be about one lost match, or one lost cycle, or one lost team. It’s going to be about an entire country, rallying around an entire sport, in a way that lasts. So let’s plan on it, then – 2022 ... We’ll be there.”

US Soccer told the Guardian they did not have a comment on Pulisic’s article.

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