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Christian Pulisic tries to get past disappointment of U.S. failure to make World Cup

Borussia Dortmund and United States national team midfielder

Borussia Dortmund and United States national team midfielder Christian Pulisic appears at Hershey's Chocolate World in Times Square on Thursday. Credit: Newsday / Ryan Gerbosi

Christian Pulisic should have been realizing his childhood dream in a few short weeks.

The 19-year-old soccer standout should have been set to lead an underdog United States men’s national team into the 2018 World Cup next month against the game’s greatest players.

He could have been aiming to parlay a strong tournament into a potential big-money transfer from his German team, Borussia Dortmund, to one of Europe’s higher-profile clubs.

Pulisic, however, won’t be doing any of that, at least not this summer.

The United States failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament last year after a series of disappointing results, relegating Pulisic and the rest of the U.S. squad to spectator status. That’s a fact the face of American soccer would like to forget.

“I try not to think about it as much anymore,” Pulisic said Thursday. “It was definitely tougher towards the beginning. But yeah, I’ve learned a lot from the whole process and we’re going to try to move forward.”

Pulisic, a native of Hershey, Pennsylvania, was at Hershey’s Chocolate World in Times Square on Thursday where his hometown company announced a partnership with the emerging soccer star. He’s back in the United States following the end of the German Bundesliga season, in which he helped Dortmund finish fourth to earn a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

Despite a successful season in Germany and the promise of a long career ahead, the midfielder said it’s still tough to shake the disappointment of not making this summer’s World Cup.

“It comes up, it’s not something I can change now,” Pulisic said. “We’re not there. But it just gives you more inspiration and makes you more hungry to be in the next one.”

Pulisic has been playing in Dortmund’s youth system and senior team since he was 16. He believes the talent is here in the United States to build a strong national team that can challenge at the highest international levels, but said youth academies and opportunities for talented kids here need to catch up with their European counterparts.

“It’s continuing to grow your leagues and your academies at youth ages, then going and moving them into pros. That’s what Europe’s done and there’s kids fighting for professional contracts every day and if we can continue to build that environment in the U.S., it can be a really big success,” Pulisic said. “The U.S. has a lot to learn about how they do it in Europe and how soccer is there, how the academies are and how the leagues are. I think as soon as we start to build that — which I think we’ve come a long way already — kids will see that and start to stay in the U.S. and I think we’ll have great players like we’ve seen starting to come up here.”

As young fans clutching photos of Pulisic and wearing his Dortmund and United States jerseys waited to meet the phenom, the young midfielder said he’s impressed with the growth of the sport from both a fan and skill perspective among Americans, even in the short time since he left for the Bundesliga.

“Absolutely, it’s pretty cool to see how far the sport has come just since I’ve been over in Germany,” said Pulisic, who joined Dortmund in 2015. “There’s so many fans now and we have so much support at home. It’s great to see the sport grow.

“I think we’re developing a lot of young players now which looks really good. We have some great names playing in Europe, playing in MLS. If we continue to do that, then I think people should be hopeful about what’s to come.”

Pulisic is hopeful and confident the U.S. will return to the sport’s biggest stage, but he also said the work for 2022 begins in 2018.

“Right now it’s just going to camp with the national team and just help these young players, help to develop them,” he said. “And I still have so much to learn as well, and I think if we continue to do that together, we’ll be all right.”

Pulisic says his focus is on what’s in front of him, but others are focused on what’s next for one of European football’s hottest commodities. Reports in recent months have linked Pulisic with transfers to a few of the continent’s biggest clubs. That includes Liverpool, which employs Dortmund’s former manager, Jurgen Klopp.

Pulisic would not directly answer questions about reuniting with Klopp or a potential move from Germany.

“Right now, I’m under contract with Dortmund and I’m doing everything I can there, I’m working hard,” he said. “In the future, with soccer, you never know what could happen, but right now I’m very focused on where I’m at.”

He’s still early in his career, but Pulisic said it’s no longer strange to see his name in tabloid rumors and reports.

“It’s not weird to me, it’s normal in soccer, you hear it all the time. Some things people don’t really know what they’re saying, some things . . . you never know where there these things come from.”

It’s all part of the living the dream as a professional soccer player, but a key part still needs to be realized.

“I think it’s every kid around the world’s dream to play in the World Cup,” Pulisic said. “It’s my biggest dream in soccer. To play in a World Cup one day for USA would be a dream come true.”

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