With nine minutes left to tick off the clock in the USA's match on Tuesday night, 17-year-old Christian Pulisic stepped on the MAPFRE Stadium field to become the youngest American to ever appear in a World Cup qualifier. The much-anticipated moment officially cap-ties the uber-talented youngster to the United States for the rest of his international career.
Pulisic holds a Croatian passport and while he's never shown any interest in abandoning the U.S. Soccer program for the Europeans, this officially kills any possibility of a future switch.
So, what's next for Pulisic now that he's been 'captured' by U.S. Soccer? This situation seems all too familiar to Julian Green's just two years ago. A very talented player who is eligible for two big countries called into an important competition for the sole purpose of capping them. We've seen the aftermath of Green's situation. After the World Cup in which he was officially tied to the U.S. he was dropped like a bad habit by Jurgen Klinsmann due to under-performing at the club level.
Will the Pennsylvania native suffer the same fate and be tossed away after his brief moment in the spotlight or will he continue to be called in and integrated into the men's national team? A lot of it will likely depend on how the rest of the season goes at Borussia Dortmund. Unlike Julian Green and Bayern Munich, Dortmund are very much invested in Pulisic and have given him ample opportunity this season to get first team minutes. If those chances continue to come and Pulisic takes advantage, how could he not continue to be called in?
The current USMNT player pool isn't exactly overflowing with talent. Having a 17-year-old who is getting consistent minutes with the No. 2 club in the Bundesliga wouldn't be the most absurd thing we've ever seen. With the Copa America Centenario coming up, Jurgen Klinsmann will be looking for his 23 best players. Is Pulisic currently among the 23 most deserving of a roster spot? Probably not. But, if he's close to cracking it already at such a young age, it makes perfect sense to bring him to the important tournament and let him get the valuable experience.
However, there's always the chance that Pulisic travels back to Dortmund and his minutes start to dwindle and he's phased out for the rest of the season. What happens then? Does he get tossed away like Green did before him?
It's important to remember that at 17, Pulisic is still eligible for the current U.S. U-20 team for the upcoming World Cup cycle (Another U-20 World Cup will be held in 2017). If things go south with Dortmund for the rest of this season don't be surprised to see him held back from full national team participation and placed back with his natural age group in an attempt to protect his career growth.
Then there's always the possibility that it doesn't matter how the player does with Dortmund this season. The plan from the beginning could always have been to cap-tie him and then send him back to his natural age group.
It really becomes a matter of philosophy. Trying to guess what Klinsmann is thinking is a pointless exercise, but it's all we can do when it comes to Pulisic's future. Was this cap for the sole purpose of making sure he doesn't stray from the program or do they see him as a legitimate option in the near future?
Young players all over the world participate with their national teams on a regular basis. Some flame out and some become stars. The USMNT have been looking for their next poster boy for the last decade. It's understandable that they'd be extra careful when it comes to their next big thing's development.