Perhaps the hottest story in American soccer leading into the Copa America Centenario was the rise of Christian Pulisic. Only the hardcore USMNT/USYNT supporters were aware of Pulisic before this past European season began. When it ended he had scored two Bundesliga goals and graced many headlines (sorry). He had become a true household name even for the casual fan.
With that extra recognition obviously comes added pressure both for him and the people in charge of his development. Months before the tournament even started there were supporters and pundits alike calling for Pulisic to not only make the roster but to be a starter. How would the 17-year-old phenom handle the expectations? Let's take a look.
Pulisic appeared in three matches, all as a substitute, in the Copa America. Here are his most notable stats:
Games Played: 3
Minutes Played: 85
Defensive Actions: 4
For such a young and inexperienced player, the fact that Pulisic even made the roster for a major international tournament should be considered a huge positive. Not only did he make the roster but he played in three matches, all of which the U.S. were desperate for a goal. Instead of relying on a back-up striker like Chris Wondolowski to get the goals, Pulisic was called on several times to try and make a difference against some of the best teams in the world. Against Argentina in the semifinals he was given a 45-minute second half run out and didn't look at all fazed by the situation.
Without being too harsh on the kid, it's important to be fair. It's safe to say that in his nearly 90 minutes of action in this tournament that not starting him was the right move. When he came onto the field he didn't embarrass himself and he held his own, but he wasn't exactly a difference maker.
Strength and getting knocked off the ball is an area that he'll have to improve on as he matures. Several incidents occurred during his time on the field that saw him easily nudged off the ball in important spots.
When given the chance to be a big influence in the attack he came up short. He's not fully to blame as the players around him didn't exactly help his cause against Colombia and Argentina. It felt like he spent most of his time on the field fighting for possession along the sidelines and trying to win the ball back instead of having chances in dangerous spots in front of goal.
Copa Grade - Incomplete
He made the roster. He played. He never really got a chance to make an impact. We would've liked to have seen more, but it's understandable to hold him back at this point in his career. Hopefully we get to see more of him soon to get a better grasp of his talent at this level.
Pulisic will return to Borussia Dortmund where he'll face a tough fight for playing time. The club have sold Henrikh Mkhitaryan but they have already brought in two talented young players and have been strongly linked to both Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle this transfer window. Time will tell just how much of a legitimate chance he has at playing time this season. With any luck he'll spend the season how he finished the last as a reliable bench player for a Champions League team. His club development will be crucial to his national team future and this upcoming season will be a very important one for his development.