COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Christian Pulisic Hype Train picked up even more steam on Friday night. The United States may have lost to Mexico, 2-1, but the 18-year-old was impressive even in defeat.
Pulisic was regularly able to find space and get in position to test the Mexico defense. He was nearly in on goal on one occasion and nearly set up a goal. The El Tri defense had to make last-chance blocks to stop him from setting up golden chances.
The U.S. game plan was to get Pulisic on the ball often too. Despite being young and playing in his first ever Hex match, Jurgen Klinsmann had no problem throwing a lot of responsibility on the teenagers’ shoulders. While it wouldn’t be fair to say that they built the team around Pulisic, he was very much a key part of the team’s approach, and the manager was happy with what he got from his starlet.
"I think Christian handled it very well," Klinsmann said after the match. "He’s trying to find his openings, to find some areas where he can explode and take people on and I think he did very well. He had the freedom to roam, he can go left, right, middle, he can play off of the two string strikers.
"I think you can see his quality and you can see his talent."
Klinsmann has made a point of trying to keep Pulisic out of the spotlight, saying that they don’t want to put too much on the kid so soon. But with Mexico in town for the most important match of the Americans’ World Cup qualifying campaign, there was Pulisic in the starting XI. Even Klinsmann, who understandably wants to slow the hype, couldn’t deny Pulisic even on the biggest of stages.
Pulisic wasn’t perfect by any means. He took one heavy touch that ruined what had been a terrific run to that point and other bad touch spoiled a chance to shoot. But it was his ability to constantly find space that was amazing.
For all the technique a player can have on the ball, or even athleticism, it’s the ability to create space, find openings in the defense and regularly get the ball in dangerous positions that makes a great player. It’s a skill that few have, and Pulisic has it. Mexico saw it first hand and it’s why they so often struggled to keep tabs on the youngster.
Pulisic only made his professional debut with Borussia Dortmund in January and he has only been with the senior team since March, but in that short time he has done so much to impress everyone around him that even a good showing against the Americans’ most hated rival wasn’t a surprise.
"It’s what I expected. A kid that’s fearless, that has all the ability in the world and I thought he was terrific tonight," said Jozy Altidore. "It’s not an easy game to come in and start, especially at that age, and I thought he handled himself really well."
All of this for an 18-year-old. One who is playing week-in, week-out for one of the biggest clubs in the world and being handled the reins to the U.S. attack for their biggest match of the year. It’s remarkable and, you would think it would get to his head even a little bit. Instead …
"I didn’t do enough to help us get three points," Pulisic said when asked about his performance.
The U.S. didn’t get three points, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who blames Pulisic for it. You can’t even find someone to say a bad word about him, and why would they? All he does is continue to put on a show.