MEXICO CITY — He is all of 18 years old and looks like he should be backpacking through Europe with his friends.
Instead, Christian Pulisic has put his entire team on his back.
This is just not any team, it’s the U.S. national team, which is trying to survive while this talented teenager thrives during World Cup qualifying.
Pulisic’s next challenge is Sunday night against Mexico at Estadio Azteca, where the U.S. has never won in qualifying. The U.S. sits in the third and final World Cup qualifying spot in the CONCACAF hexagonal after the first five games.
“He’s just ahead of his time,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said after Pulisic scored twice in the 2-0 qualifying win over Trinidad & Tobago in Commerce City, Colorado Thursday. “He gets the ball, he’s super comfortable on it. He never ever panics. The world is his oyster. He’s special. These guys don’t come around very often. So, you have to enjoy it and savor it. We certainly are. We’re going to continue to lean on him as he grows.”
Pulisic only made his international debut in March 2016 and his impressive numbers and deeds are just beginning to accrue. Pulisic has been a part of 12 goals (seven goals, five assists) in 15 international appearances. He already has scored five qualifying goals and has played a role in the last eight American goals.
“I’m just trying to stay aggressive and trying to help this team anyway I can,” he said. “Any time I feel I have made an impact on the game I am really happy. But I’m just honored that I go out there and get a chance to play.”
Coach Bruce Arena is just happy to have him.
“He’s just a natural for the game,” he said. “He sees the game very well and has good instincts on getting in good spots. As he gets a little bit better and a little bit more experience, his ability to be a playmaker or a better passer in the last half of the field will improve. He’s certainly an exceptional talent.”
The son of former Centereach native Mark Pulisic, the 5-8, 140-pound midfielder grew up and honed his skills in Hershey, Pennsylvania before grabbing the interest of German super-club Borussia Dortmund.
Not since the debut of Landon Donovan has someone captured the imagination of the men’s team.
“Landon, he had incredible potential, but he fulfilled it in the course of a decade and then some,” Howard said. “Christian is well on his way.”
The Mexicans know he is coming.
The Reforma newspaper dedicated a front page of its sports section to Pulisic with the headline:
“It’s going to be a tough. But we really want some revenge on them when they got us earlier,” Pulisic said of the 2-1 qualifying loss to Mexico in November. “So, we’re really confident going into that game. We’re going to come out with a win there, too.”