COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – At his press conference on Wednesday, Bruce Arena talked about the challenge of bringing along young talents like Christian Pulisic. The United States men’s national team head coach was then asked why he was playing Pulisic smack dab in the center of the USA midfield, thereby placing most of the pressure on the 18-year-old to create scoring chances.
Arena shrugged. “Well,” he said, “where else do you want me to play him?”
Truth is, there is no better position for Pulisic to play for the U.S. He’s deservingly been placed at the top of Arena’s diamond formation right behind veteran forwards Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, being allowed to steer the American attack in any direction he wants it to go.
Because there’s a new undeniable reality now with Pulisic: When he goes, the USMNT goes. And it’s looking like the Americans will only go as far as he takes them.
And it’s apparent now that this U.S. men’s national team clearly belongs to Christian Pulisic.
If you are stunned by that statement and feel the urge to pump the brakes on the hype, you haven’t been paying attention. Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago provided more clarity on just how much Pulisic means to the USA’s fortunes.
In a home game that the U.S. absolutely had to win, Pulisic delivered two second-half goals in a 2-0 victory that continued the Americans’ revival under Arena. The Borussia Dortmund star provided the sliding finish on a well-worked build-up in the 52nd minute and scored the second goal 10 minutes later with a near-post strike from Altidore’s first-time through ball.
Pulisic came through in the clutch like a team’s best player is supposed to do. The ability to lead by example reassures teammates that things will work out just fine. That he will find a way to win.
“He’s having fun,” Arena said. “I just think he’s a natural for the game.”
The game was Pulisic’s fourth straight with a goal. He also has seven goals in just 15 international appearances, five in only eight World Cup qualifiers. But here’s the statistic that really shows how much the U.S. depends on his production: Of the last eight USMNT goals, Pulisic has factored into seven of them, scoring four and assisting on three others.
“It’s not just scoring goals,” Pulisic said. “Just being out there. It’s like a dream of mine, to wear the USA crest and to be playing with the players I am for the country, it’s amazing. The fact these goals are coming … I still can’t believe I get to be on the field.”
Arena says he’s trying not to get in the way of his young phenom’s progress. “But I do have to say something to him every now and then,” he added.
So, this week, Arena approached Pulisic with an idea: to have him become the primary kick-taker on set pieces. Pulisic needed some convincing this was going to be a good thing for him and the team.
“He wasn’t sure,” Arena recalled. “I said, ‘If I get fired because you can’t hit free kicks and corners, I’m OK with that. Just go ahead and take them.’ ”
“I guess I have to start taking more responsibilities,” Pulisic said. “It’s part of the team.”
USA’s World Cup qualifying campaign figures to be a wild ride all the way to the final games in October, but success or failure, it will be entertaining. Because you just never know what Christian Pulisic will do next.
The Americans will go only as far as he will take them.
Joe Lago is the editor of FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @joelago.