Christian Pulisic's anger over England loss a good thing for U.S. - it shows he cares
LONDON -- In the aftermath of England's 3-0 pasting of the U.S. men's national team on Thursday, Christian Pulisic's simmering mood looked like it was about to morph into full boil.
It was bad enough that the U.S. had been thoroughly outclassed by the Three Lions, and questions about his and the team's performance added to his ire. This was the case when he was asked if he should have tracked back more for Jesse Lingard's 25th-minute opener.
"You think that?" he said, his eyes throwing daggers.
When asked, "Do you?" he responded, "I don't know."
There were bigger reasons for the U.S midfielder's foul mood. The result was certainly tough to take. He had done his utmost to carry the U.S attack, but wasn't as sharp on this evening as he has been in the past. He did carve out a clear opportunity in the 24th minute, only to be denied from close range by England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. But he was by no means alone. This was a night when the U.S. were clearly inferior to the World Cup semifinalists.
"We need to get a lot better as a team," Pulisic said. "We can talk about continuing to gain experience. That is not why we are here. We want to win now. We need to win these games. I'm a competitive guy and I know everyone else is in that locker room. It wasn't good enough today."
The lack of a permanent head coach is also a sore spot, though Pulisic did his best to deflect blame from caretaker manager Dave Sarachan.
Sarachan has been in charge for about 13 months now, and while the former Chicago Fire manager has fulfilled his remit by blooding in plenty of young players, there is a growing impatience to hire a full-time coach. It was one thing when Sarachan was identifying the core group of players to move forward. But now that that task has largely been accomplished, a ceiling has been reached and it can only be broken by naming his replacement.
"It's tough," Pulisic said. "Dave [Sarachan]'s doing what he can. He wants to win these games just like we do. It's going to help a lot when we get a permanent head coach moving forward, a guy who has a real plan and a style of how we want to play. If we're going to compete with a side like England, we need a lot more energy."
For all the talk of whether Pulisic should have started centrally, or why Tyler Adams began the game on the bench, the lack of energy the Dortmund winger singled out was the biggest problem on the night for the U.S., especially in the first half. Yes, a team like England are going to have more of the ball. All the more reason for the U.S. to make sure it was defensively solid from the opening whistle. That wasn't the case, as England repeatedly overloaded the flanks, a task made easier by the enormous amount of time afforded to midfielder Fabian Delph as he sprayed passes from side to side. The Three Lions' 2-0 half-time lead was no fluke.
"Our shifting wasn't quick enough," midfielder Wil Trapp said. "They got the ball wide and they would bring a guy inside, they would run a midfielder out of the midfield to hold our center-back and put our midfielders in an interesting position. Do we go with the runner? Then they would exploit the space in between us. It was a smart plan by them and it was difficult to deal with. I don't think we did a very good job of communicating and just shifting across to make it tighter."
When asked if he thought some of his teammates were guilty of ball-watching, Trapp said, "I think it was indecision more than ball-watching."
There is a tendency to cite youth or a lack of chemistry for the U.S.' slow start, but the core of the team has emerged over the past few months. Some cohesion ought to have been evident, but it wasn't. Sarachan has spoken of this side playing with no fear. But in the first half there was plenty. Part of the foundation has been laid in the past year, but the concrete hasn't finished setting just yet.
As for Pulisic's fire, it can be looked upon mostly as a good sign. It has been implied in some circles that he's less than enthusiastic about the national team these days. But his reaction on Thursday shows that is far from the truth. The fact that he was upset with the performance also certainly adds a layer of accountability to the group and fits with his stated aim of being more of a leader.
The result against England is by no means going to be the last difficult one. This remains a young team that is absorbing some tough lessons. For that reason, there also needs to be bits of encouragement and patience. To be fair, there were moments when Pulisic showed signs of inching in that direction.
"We have a lot of talent, you guys can see that," Pulisic said. "We have a long way to go. We have a lot of young guys and we can be a lot better. We're going to day by day."
The final game of the year is set to take place on Tuesday against Italy. That test will give the U.S. the chance to show if they have channelled Thursday's anger in the right direction.