USA coach Bruce Arena told The Set Pieces that Christian Pulisic has a “very bright future” with the national team after meeting the Borussia Dortmund teenager for the first time at the weekend.
Having recently been appointed as US head coach for a second time, Arena was in Germany to check in on the American contingent in the Bundesliga. On Saturday, he attended Dortmund’s victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach at Signal Iduna Park to watch Pulisic and Gladbach’s Fabian Johnson.
Pulisic, who has scored three goals in 11 appearances for USA, has featured regularly for Dortmund this season but only played 12 minutes of the 4-1 win over Gladbach. That was still enough time for the 18-year-old to make an impression on Arena.
With his new national team manager watching on, Pulisic dribbled 40 yards from the halfway line, going past four players, before being denied what would have been a brilliant goal by Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Speaking exclusively to The Set Pieces after the game, Arena praised the prodigious winger for his development so far.
“At 18-years-old, he’s playing for one of the top clubs in Europe and he’s playing for his national team. I think he’s doing quite well,” said Arena. “We need to be a little bit patient and not expect too much too soon but he’s obviously a player with a lot of potential.”
Arena first took charge of the USA back in October 1998 – a month after Pulisic was born. The 65-year-old went on to become the most successful coach in the national team’s history during his eight-year reign, leading the US to their best ever World Cup campaign by reaching the quarter-finals of the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea.
Four years later Arena parted company with the national team after they failed to get out of the group stages at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. But ten years on, back in the country where it ended for him first time around, Arena told The Set Pieces of his hopes for the highly-rated Pulisic.
“I think with young players, you need to be smart. You need to gradually introduce them into teams and not throw too much at them early but he’s certainly a talented player.
“I think he’s got a very bright future, not only with this club team but also with the national team as well.”
Pulisic and his team-mates face an uphill struggle to reach the World Cup in Russia in 2018. USA are currently bottom of the final CONCACAF qualifying group, having lost their first two games against Mexico and Costa Rica.
The latter defeat, a scathing 4-0 reverse, is the worst World Cup qualifying defeat the US have suffered in 36 years. It brought the swift departure of Jürgen Klinsmann, and led to Arena leaving his role as LA Galaxy coach to take over the national team job once again.
“You never like these circumstances when a coach is dismissed but it’s my country,” said Arena. “I feel it’s a responsibility I had to take on, so I look forward to the challenge.”
Arena conceded that USA ‘have a lot of work to do” to avoid missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
They must finish in the top three of their six-team group in order to qualify automatically, though a fourth-place finish would put them in a two-game playoff against a nation from the Asian Football Confederation.
Eight matches remain in the group stage, the first of which is at home to Honduras on March 23rd. Although he faces a four month wait until the first competitive game of his second spell in charge, Arena is firmly focused on taking the USA to Russia and is convinced they can still complete the task.
“I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “But we obviously have to produce some wins in our next couple of matches.”