Column: Is it a problem that Christian Pulisic is the United States’ best player?

Christian Pulisic speaks to the media at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. Just 18 years old, Pulisic has become the key player for the United States soccer team heading into its World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica on Friday. (Ron Blum/AP)

After next week's World Cup qualifiers, the United States, led by Christian Pulisic will all but have clinched a spot in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The U.S. breakout star during this qualifying cycle, Pulisic, is already considered by many to be the best player on the national team and likely the best player the country has ever produced.

For his club team, Borussia Dortmund, Pulisic is by no means the star, but is considered a valuable squad player after breaking into the first team last season. With world-class players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus by his side, Pulisic is an exciting young player on the team. With the United States, all eyes are on Pulisic, literally. For the United States game on Friday against Costa Rica, ESPN will offer a stream that follows Pulisic the whole game.

Since making his debut in March of 2016, Pulisic has been a key player for the team, with four goals in his last five appearances and involvement in seven of the team’s last 11 goals.

Any success that the United States has in Russia will likely have a lot to do with the diminutive midfielder, and that is a problem. Relying on a 19-year-old, no matter how good they are, is not ideal. Very few teenagers can carry a team through a tournament.

One a success story that fans are hoping Pulisic can emulate is that of a 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo at EURO 2004. Ronaldo played a major role in Portugal's second place finish at the tournament and was named in the team of the tournament, so it can be done, but Ronaldo also had a much more talented supporting cast.

But this is often not the case. At 19, Lionel Messi was only featured in one game during the 2006 World Cup; granted, with much more competition for playing time.

Pulisic is by no means alone. Veteran Clint Dempsey is still an important member of the team, but due to his age, he may struggle in a short tournament like the World Cup. Meanwhile, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are leading Toronto FC to possibly the best season in Major League Soccer history and Bobby Wood, Fabian Johnson and John Brooks are all playing their trade in the Bundesliga.

Soccer fans in the United States have long yearned for America’s first world soccer star and in the past have hung their hopes on teenage phenoms like Freddy Adu and Julian Green, only to be disappointed.

However, comparing Pulisic to those two would be ignorant, as Pulisic has already shown much more in his young career. But Pulisic has shown that he is human disappearing in games at times, like in the United States’ World Cup qualifier against Panama earlier this year.

I am a firm believer that when Christian Pulisic retires he will be the best soccer player in the history of the United States, but relying so heavily on a player so young is a mistake that the United States will pay for in Russia.


Antonio Salazar is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at antonio.salazar@uconn.edu.