LONDON — Christian Pulisic is ready to take on more of a leadership role for the U.S. men’s national team on the road to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The 20-year-old Borussia Dortmund attacker is back with the USMNT for just the second time since the Americans failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia. A series of nagging leg injuries prevented him from returning to the U.S. squad in recent months. But he’s set to play a major role in Thursday’s friendly here at Wembley Stadium against England and another next week versus Italy. That goes for off the field as well as on.
“I definitely need to be a more important piece of this team and continue to grow as a leader,” the Pennsylvania native said during a roundtable with a small group of reporters. “I think that’s important for the team and important for myself.”
The introverted Pulisic admitted that taking on a bigger role doesn’t necessarily come naturally to him. “For me it’s tough because I’m not a very vocal guy. I’m not super outgoing,” he said. “But I think the biggest I can do is lead by example. I want to show these guys how it’s done at a professional level. I want to be focused every day in training and if guys see that, they’ll want to do the same thing.”
The U.S. team has changed considerably in the 13 months that have passed since the qualifying debacle. Gone are veterans like Clint Dempsey Tim Howard and several others who played in multiple World Cups. Since May, the average age of the USMNT squad has been just 23 years old. Dave Sarachan has managed the national team on an interim basis but is expected to be replaced on a permanent basis, almost certainly by Columbus Crew coach Gregg Berhalter.
“We definitely want a permanent coach with someone who has a plan and an idea of how we want to play moving forward,” Pulisic said. “But Dave, in the meantime, has also done a good job developing these guys and calling guys in and allowing them to be part of the team as well.”
Pulisic has been keeping close tabs on the team from a distance during his absence. “I’ve watched as much as I can, because this is my team,” he said. “I would’ve loved to have been there with the guys but its good to see some new faces on the scene and doing well, because they’re doing well with their clubs and they deserve to get called up.”
There have been highs, like a 1-1 tie with eventual World Cup champion France and a win against chief rival Mexico on Sept. 11. But there have also been growing pains along the way, such as a 2-0 loss to Brazil that wasn’t as close as the scoreline would suggest. Thursday’s match against Russia 2018 semifinalist Three Lions will provide another stern test.
“England is a great team, they surprised a lot of people and had a great World Cup,” Pulisic said. “It’s definitely an inspiration for us. We definitely feel that with a young side we can also do something like that.”
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