Pulisic re­signed to watch­ing World Cup on TV

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Martin Rogers

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.”

BILL STREICHER/ USA TO­DAY SPORTS

U.S. men’s na­tional team star Chris­tian Pulisic says miss­ing this World Cup “will al­ways hurt.”

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