Pulisic resigned to watching World Cup on TV
Christian Pulisic will never forget this World Cup. Not even if he plays in and shines in and — whisper it now — comes close to winning soccer’s biggest tournament at some point in his career.
Currently America’s best soccer player and brightest hope, Pulisic was a fastrising 15-year-old when he watched the 2014 tournament, part of it from his cousin’s basement in Virginia, where family members had hung red-whiteand-blue decorations and cooked up a feast for the USA’s opening game against Ghana.
Now the sport’s ultimate test has come around again, and, in what should have been a perfect confluence of timing, Pulisic has blossomed into a worldclass performer who belongs in such heady company. Except that, in case you hadn’t heard, the USA didn’t qualify. Meaning he’ll be back in front of the television screen again, with no one to root for except a couple of his buddies from Borussia Dortmund, Belgium’s Michy Batshuayi and Germany’s Marco Reus.
“There was the initial shock of it all and you have to find a way to deal with it,” Pulisic told USA TODAY, remembering the surreal night in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago, when the USA suffered a stunning loss that ended a dismal campaign with the worst possible outcome. “The toughest part was when it just hit me — I wasn’t going to be part of the World Cup.”
The Ghana game in 2014 saw Pulisic charge around the room with his arms raise screaming with delight when Clint Dempsey scored in the first minute and when substitute defender John Brooks was the unlikely hero with a late winner.
Two years later, he was on the team alongside them, settled instantly, and thus the talk began of “savior” and “wunderkind” and all the other descriptives that he feels don’t pay proper tribute to the amount of work he puts in.
Some elite soccer players who miss out on the World Cup through injury, non-selection or because their country didn’t qualify try to skip watching the tournament, which is no easy feat given the way it absorbs the attention of the planet.
“I won’t do that,” Pulisic said. “It has been my biggest dream, it is the thing you think about when you are a kid, but you don’t ever stop thinking about it. I have always wanted to play in the World Cup, so to miss it is very hard. You can’t really fix it, except to put it right next time. But missing out this time will always hurt, and that won’t change.”
It seems absurd to think about the USA competing seriously for a World Cup any time soon, not when the sting of recent failure is still fresh and given when the 2022 tournament arrives it will have been 20 years since the team got as far as the quarterfinals.
Yet for Pulisic it is not mere qualification for 2022 but that higher goal of seeing the American squad be a real threat that provides the focus and thus diverts the frustration a little. If, under Jurgen Klinsmann and then Bruce Arena, the USA was unexpectedly bad in this past campaign, perhaps it can be surprisingly good and shock some doubters next time? Other countries have followed drastic failure with a glorious reboot.
“I think we can (contend). There is no reason not to do that at the next World Cup,” he said. “It is a big miss for the youth in this country not to get that chance to watch an American team playing in the World Cup. It does give us a chance as a nation to look back and see what went wrong and look at how to avoid that happening again.”
There are no positives to be taken from the USA missing out on the World Cup for the first time in 32 years, just lessons to be learned.
Yet it does mean that Pulisic will be able to spend some scarce quality time in Hershey, Pa., at his boyhood home, where his poster of LeBron James and a baseball card collection that includes a prized rare Sammy Sosa and his mom’s best dishes are in ready supply.
He likes Hershey because “everyone knows everyone,” and the town’s iconic chocolate manufacturer even signed him to an endorsement deal that involved him promoting the company’s Reese’s Outrageous bars.
Life in Dortmund agrees with him, but some home comforts and a little downtime will also serve to recharge the batteries before the next European club season. Plus, there will be no shortage of soccer to watch on television.
“The World Cup is the best tournament in the world, it’s unbelievable soccer,” Pulisic said. “It is great to watch … but it’d be even better to be playing in it.”
U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic says missing this World Cup “will always hurt.”