Christian Pulisic has one year left on his contract with Chelsea, but that doesn’t mean he’ll play there next season.
“A lot of things can happen,” he said. “A lot of things can change.”
Pulisic is Exhibit A for that. When he moved to the Premier League club from Germany’s Borussia Dortmund five years ago, he was considered a key part of Chelsea’s future. However, his playing time and the club’s fortunes have dwindled recently, and a divorce seems imminent.
Which brings us to the U.S. national team. Because if Pulisic’s role with his club has lessened, his importance to the U.S. has grown. And those two things may be related.
“We all have those moments where maybe the team is not giving us what we need. And this is Christian’s getaway,” said forward Tim Weah, who plays for French club Lille.
Since mid-March, Pulisic has made more starts and scored more goals for the national team than for Chelsea, which had three times as many games. The U.S. has won more games as well, with Pulisic’s two goals in last week’s CONCACAF Nations League semifinal win over Mexico running the team’s unbeaten streak to five.
The win also qualified the U.S., the reigning tournament champion, for Sunday’s Nations League final against Canada, which, like Pulisic, is using the tournament to prove a point. Mexico will meet Panama in the third-place game.
Both the U.S. and Mexico will be missing key players after Thursday’s wild game produced nine yellow cards and four reds, leaving Americans Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest and Mexico’s Gerardo Arteaga and César Montes unavailable Sunday.
That will test the depth of the U.S. team.
“We’re all very confident in the 23 players that are here,” interim coach B.J. Callaghan said. “A lot of them have been inside our program for a while. So we expect the mentality of ‘the next man is going to step up.’ All the players are comfortable performing their roles when their numbers are called.”
Count Pulisic, the team’s captain in Tyler Adams’ absence, among them. After recording career lows for league starts (eight), minutes (813), goals (one) and assists (one) at Chelsea, which finished with a losing record for the first time since 1994-95, joining the U.S. camp two weeks ago allowed him to put all that misery behind him.
“It’s been a really tough season. For me personally and for our team,” Pulisic said. “So it’s just about coming in here and having a fresh start. And just to get some minutes and get back to being that confident player that I know I can be, find my footing again and just enjoy the game.
“Because it feels like it’s been tough to do that lately.”
He’s certainly making progress toward that goal. In his last five starts for the U.S., dating to last fall’s World Cup, Pulisic has scored or assisted on what proved to be the winning goal in three of the team’s four victories. His two scores in the 3-0 win against Mexico — the most lopsided victory ever over El Tri in a CONCACAF match — made him the sixth player in U.S. history to notch 25 goals in international play.
“We know how big of a player and influence he is for us, on and off the field,” Callaghan said. “I can’t speak to whether he’s motivated to prove anybody wrong. I know how much representing the United States national team and United States in general means to him. And every time he comes into camp, how excited he is and how positive he is to be here.
“So I just think when you’re in a comfortable environment, one that you feel good and confident in, that’s when you see the best version. And I’m glad that we’re getting the best version of Christian Pulisic.”
On Sunday, Callaghan will get a pretty good version of a Canadian team that, with a win, could argue it’s the best in the region.
The Nations League final marks Canada’s first appearance in a CONCACAF championship game since 2000. It comes 15 months after the team won the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, earning a trip to its first World Cup in 36 years.
“But there’s no trophy that comes with that,” defender Alistair Johnson said Saturday of the qualifying competition. “We’ve already kind of put that behind us. We see that as the previous four-year cycle and we’re into a new four-year cycle. We’ve done well this past couple of years to really feel like we can go into matches with a level of confidence. It’s not arrogance. But a level of confidence that we play with anyone in this region.
“But now it’s time we start lifting trophies to show to everyone that we’re a team that’s for real. And it starts with matches like tomorrow.”