Christian Pulisic says things happened 'a little bit too fast' for him last season
United States midfielder Christian Pulisic admitted "everything happened a little bit too fast" for him last season during his meteoric rise for club and country.
Pulisic, 18, had breakout campaigns with club side Borussia Dortmund and with the U.S. national team, for whom he'd never even played a World Cup qualifier for at this time last year.
And 365 days later he has three qualifying goals for the U.S. and made 31 Bundesliga appearances on his way to becoming a star for club and country. For the Hershey, Pennsylvania native, the rapid rise has come as a surprise to him as much as anyone.
"For me, everything happened a little bit too fast," Pulisic said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Manhattan. "The past year has been a roller coaster.
"Being able to play at club level at a high level, and then getting called into the national team, it's amazing. But I'm just trying to stay on as level ground as I can.
"I just try to keep [the hype] out of my mind as much as I can. It doesn't really matter to me. I put enough pressure on myself."
On Friday night, the Americans play Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. While the team can't qualify for the 2018 World Cup with a win or a draw, a victory against the Ticos would virtually guarantee a spot at next summer's tournament.
Pulisic, who has seven goals in just 16 appearances for the Stars and Stripes, will handle the playmaking duty. It's a role he's taken to with ease, despite his youth. And his maturation has impressed some of his more experienced teammates.
"He has surprised me for sure, just in terms of how good a player he is and ultimately how quickly he's been able to find the right ways to come into our team and make a real impact at this level," said U.S. captain Michael Bradley, who was also speaking at the news conference.
"I can remember watching him with the U-17s at the World Cup with Richie [Williams, U-17 coach]. You could see his talent, his ability, that was so clear.
"But you never know for sure how quickly some of the other stuff comes along. From the first camp that he has come into our team, he has found a way to fit into the group."
U.S. manager Bruce Arena has facilitated Pulisic's rise by putting him in a position to control the attack, and it's not the first time he's gone that route. In the past, Arena gave leadership positions to young players like Claudio Reyna and Landon Donovan, but he was careful to point out that Pulisic is younger than those two and, at least right now, plays a different role in the American squad.
"At this point, Christian has much better support than perhaps Landon had at his time," Arena said. "He has a very experienced group of players [around him].
"It takes a little bit away from the pressure on Christian to be a leader in our program. Right now, he's a very gifted player, but he doesn't have that much responsibility in that regard. But simply because of the fact that he's such an outstanding player, there are some responsibilities both on and off the field that he has to assume."
Bradley went on to talk about the Americans' prospects for qualifying and reiterated that some great work has been done over the course of the last six months, but that there was plenty left to do.
"It's been a good year so far, but I also understand that we haven't done anything yet in terms of qualifying," Bradley said. "The big prizes are still to come."
Arena took over a team in disarray from former boss Jurgen Klinsmann at the end of 2016 and brought them to the brink of qualification. The U.S. is in third position in the CONCACAF table, but can draw level on points with Costa Rica with a win on Friday ahead of another winnable qualifier four days later in Honduras.
"We've worked real hard to position ourselves to qualify for the 2018 World Cup," Arena said. "In order to do that, we have to have a successful set of games here in September. It's very important if we hope to be in Russia in 2018."
The Americans haven't lost under Arena, and goalkeeper Tim Howard, who has endured a challenging season with the struggling Colorado Rapids, credits that to a change in mentality.
"I think the form is led by the coaches and the coaching staff in terms of the expectations of how quickly we come together and the performances that are expected when we come into training camp," Howard said.
Bradley agreed, but quickly added that it's the players' job to get results on the field.
"We understood that we had let a few things get away from us at the end of the year and there was big motivation to make sure that we put things right," he said. "We all understand that getting to a World Cup is pass or fail. At the end, it doesn't matter who the coach is. Nothing else matters. It's our responsibility as players.
"We have to make sure we finish the job. All the work that we've put in this year was for these next four games.
"We're willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that in a five- or six-week time, we've punched our ticket to Russia."
Noah Davis is a Brooklyn-based correspondent for ESPN FC and deputy editor at American Soccer Now. Twitter: @Noahedavis.