There’s something we need to be honest about when we talk about the United States men’s national team: just how incredibly talented Christian Pulisic is.
For a long time, observers and fans and analysts alike have gushed about him, but they’ve always stopped short of calling him what he is — perhaps the most talented player the USMNT has ever had and certainly the biggest star in the current player pool.
The hedging we’ve seen around Pulisic during his young career is perfectly understandable — after all, he’s just 18 years old, and by the time the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicks off, he’ll still be only 19. Far too often we’ve seen big-looking talents make a splash at a middling level, get pushed up too high too soon, and flame out into mediocrity for a variety of reasons. We’ve certainly seen it a number of times among once-exciting prospects for the USMNT, so it’s not a shock that so many people were being a little gun-shy with Pulisic.
But Pulisic isn’t most players.
It’s perhaps trite to call him the real deal, but that’s exactly what he is. As a creative player, he has passing vision and instincts that you just don’t see in 18 year olds. As an attacking player, he has deceptive burst and a nose for the right lanes to run through for the best benefit for his team. As a defensive player, he’s got the work rate and the smarts to be where he needs to be at a given moment.
He’s got technical skills for days, able to pick his way through a crowd or dazzle with a pinpoint pass at range, like the perfect through-ball he served up to Clint Dempsey for the United States’ third goal against Honduras on Friday night:
Clint Dempsey sure looks healthy to us! And how about that pass by Christian Pulisic? #USMNT is rolling! #USAvHON https://t.co/sB2uNKoTJX— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 25, 2017
The kind of vision and technique needed for that ball is incredible for any player. But for an 18 year old just 14 months removed from his first-team debut with his club team, Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, that vision and technique isn’t just unexpected, it’s almost unheard of.
To pick out Dempsey’s run, find the space for the ball to go, and execute that pass to set him up in a split second puts him in rare company, and Pulisic proved later in the match that such an assist wasn’t a fluke, setting up Dempsey with another impressive through-ball — but only after scoring a good goal of his own:
Let's go back. This is how Pulisic got the 2nd half started. @cpulisic_10 #USMNT #USAvHON https://t.co/QVKal3UYAY— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 25, 2017
First of all, it’s an excellent run from Pulisic, quickly recognizing that Honduras wasn’t setting its defense fast enough after the start of the second half, bursting into the space between defenders to run free on goal. The pass from Jozy Altidore is a good one, and Pulisic picked it up quickly, adjusting his run so he could get on the ball without breaking stride before a deft and simple finish for the USMNT’s fourth goal. It was a display of smarts and execution that we too often see teenage players make huge mistakes in, but for Pulisic, it’s just business as usual.
The simple fact is this: The USMNT has never had a talent quite like Christian Pulisic. His maturity, incredibly advanced skill set and knowledge for his age, and sheer level of talent for an 18 year old is incredible, and he’s proving more and more every time he puts on the U.S. shirt that he fully belongs at this level. He’s been proving himself in the Bundesliga and Champions League as well, and the more we see him at high levels of play, the clearer it becomes just how good he is.
We’ve danced around it for a long time, but we can’t hedge our bets or hide from the truth any more, no matter how young he is. Christian Pulisic is the best player the United States has right now and perhaps even the best it’s ever had. It doesn’t matter that he’s 18. He should be evaluated on his own merits, independent of his age.