Los Angeles (AFP) – United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann has hailed the “wonderful” performance of Christian Pulisic after the teenage starlet’s dazzling display in the World Cup qualifying rout of Trinidad and Tobago.
Klinsmann handed the 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund forward his first full start on Tuesday and the USA coach’s faith was rewarded with a bewitching performance from Pulisic in a 4-0 victory in Jacksonville.
Although Pulisic failed to score — having netted twice after coming on a substitute against St Vincent and the Grenadines last week — the teenager produced another performance which suggested the United States have unearthed a genuine talent.
Klinsmann said he had been persuaded to start Pulisic, who made his debut for Dortmund in January, after watching the youngster up close in training during the Copa America Centenario in June.
“We watch every training session. Obviously the Copa America helped us a lot to bring him along, to feel comfortable with this group of older guys,” Klinsmann said.
“He was just very mature every session, the way he trained, the way he focused. Aiming for goal, not backing up at all, taking on the physical battles as well.”
That maturity — and an eye for goal — was evident in Pulisic’s display against Trinidad, when the youngster kept probing in attack and was involved in three of the USA’s four goals.
“The performance was wonderful to watch,” Klinsmann said afterwards. “I don’t want to give him too many compliments. I want to keep him down on the ground.”
Keeping a lid on the hype, however, may be harder in practice if Pulisic continues to reproduce this sort of form.
– Childhood prodigy –
For those who have followed Pulisic’s development since childhood, his exploits do not come as a surprise.
The youngster from Hershey, Pennsylvania — home of the famous chocolate manufacturer — first came onto Dortmund’s radar when he trained at US Soccer’s youth residency program in Florida.
Eligibility for a Croatian passport through his grandfather enabled him to move to Germany with his father, Mark, who now works as a youth coach at Dortmund.
Father and son live together in Dortmund, driving to training each day at the Bundesliga giants.
His first start for Dortmund’s senior team came against Bayer Leverkusen in February before his second start, in the Ruhr derby against Schalke 04, in April.
“He’s a teenager in his first year of professional football. His first two games in the starting 11 were in Leverkusen and in Schalke -– not the easiest of tasks,” Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel said.
“It shows our huge appreciation that we see him as a full-time player on our team.”
Pulisic scored his first Bundesliga goal against Hamburg on April 17 before adding another six days later against Stuttgart — making him the youngest player ever to score twice in the league.
His international debut came as a late substitute against Guatemala in March. He became the youngest goalscorer in USA international history with a cool strike in a 4-0 friendly win against Bolivia in May.
The question now is whether Klinsmann will pitch Pulisic into the starting line-up for the opening round of final qualifying.
The USA face rivals Mexico in Columbus, Ohio on November 11 before a daunting away fixture to 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists Costa Rica four days later.
Klinsmann did not start Pulisic in any of the Copa America Centenario matches in June, and has often relied on his old guard for high-pressure games.
Nevertheless, the German World Cup-winner is delighted that Pulisic is amongst a new generation of young players who are now vying for places.
“In every time period between two World Cups, you desperately try to bring in younger players to push the older ones, to give it competition to mix things up,” Klinsmann said. “We see ourselves on the right path.”
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