Christian Pulisic has been one of the best players in England since the Premier League restarted last month, his blistering form helping propel Chelsea — which meets Manchester United on Sunday with a spot in the FA Cup final on the line — towards a top-four Prem finish and the valuable Champions League berth that comes with it.
Now we know how Pulisic feels about all that, plus a bunch of other topics — including his thoughts on leading the United States men’s national team toward the 2022 World Cup in Qatar — thanks to a wide-ranging interview with SiriusXM FC that aired on Thursday.
“I’m not used to this many games,” joked Pulisic, who has scored three goals and set up four more in seven matches since the Blues’ coronavirus-interrupted season started back up again on June 21. “Obviously the schedule has been pretty crazy.”
The unexpected break was frustrating for the 21-year-old, who had just returned to training following an adductor injury that had sidelined him since New Year’s Day when the Prem and much of regular life shut down in the middle of March. But once he headed home to the U.S. to await English soccer’s return, he refocused, using at least part of the unexpected break to work on his fitness and individual skills in Florida.
“I was finally healthy, and just put in the work,” Pulisic said. “I wanted to be on that field in that first game back. I wanted to be just more ready than everyone else, and that was really my mindset going into it.”
Yet the Pennsylvania native was’t on the field when play resumed. But after he came off the bench to score a crucial second-half equalizer in an eventual 2-1 win over Aston Villa, he took back his spot in manager Frank Lampard’s lineup for the next match, against mighty Manchester City. He scored on a brilliant individual effort in that game, and has been in Lampard’s lineup ever since.
“First game back I got a goal, and my confidence was just going up from there,” Pulisic said. “Confidence is just a huge thing for me. Having confidence from your coach, from your teammates, from everyone around you, it does help. And I’m definitely feeling that right now, and I think that’s part of why I’ve seen a bit of success here recently.”
Still, moving to London after spending four years with German talent mill Borussia Dortmund wasn’t easy at first. “I really didn’t know what to expect,” Pulisic said of moving to London. He learned quickly that the $73 million Cheslea paid Dortmund for his services didn’t buy him any respect in on the training field. He’d have to earn that himself.
“Kind of just proving you can play a little bit is a big thing,” he said. “Not everybody’s going to be your best friend right away, and that’s OK. But I really felt like once I was able to show myself on the field and show that I could play, that’s when guys really started to say, like, ‘OK this kid’s good, he can hang with us, we’re going to treat him with a little bit more respect.’ Which is crazy to say, but it’s true in a lot of professional environments.”
As much as his ability has won him friends and admirers at Stamford Bridge, it has also garnered some unwanted attention from opposing defenders. “It’s not super enjoyable when you’re getting kicked,” Pulisic said, noting that he’s been targeted for rough play before, like when he was a teenager playing for the U.S. during the failed 2018 World Cup qualifying cycle.
The foul play may not be new, but performing without fans in attendance because of the ongoing health crisis certainly is. “There are a lot of guys who are kind of motivated emotionally [by the supporters], and I think there’s other players, like me, who I think are a bit different and just kind of self-motivated,” he said. “It hasn’t affected me too much. As far as once the game is played, I haven’t noticed too much of a difference” without the fans.
SiriusXM FC hosts Tony Meola and Brian Dunseth, both of whom represented the U.S. men at major tournaments, then turned the conversation towards the rebuilding American program.
“I definitely want to take on more of a leadership role” with the USMNT, Pulisic said. “I’ve done it now, the qualifying process, obviously not so successfully last time.” He was asked by Meola what his message to his U.S. teammates will be whenever international soccer is able to be staged again.
“It’s really just going to be, nothing is given to us, man, especially in CONCACAF,” Pulisic said. “But nothing’s stopping us this time around. And we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna be confident, because there’s no way that we’re gonna be stopped again this time.
“We want to play in the World Cup, and yeah, I need every single player on that roster to believe that we’re going to be there, and to fight with everything to make sure that we are.”