SHORT HILLS, N.J. (AP) — Christian Pulisic thinks about all the talented young American players and thinks they could go far in next year’s Olympic men’s soccer tournament, perhaps himself included.
“I would never completely count that out because it’s a huge honor to play for your country in the Olympics,” the 20-year-old Chelsea midfielder said Wednesday, two days before the U.S. senior national team plays Mexico in an exhibition.
Olympic men’s soccer qualifying is limited to players under 23, with three overage players allowed for the final tournament in Japan. Age-eligible Americans include Pulisic and midfielders Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Tim Weah.
Clubs, however, are not required to release players for the Olympics or for qualifying, scheduled for March 20 to April 1 in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. The Olympic soccer tournament runs from July 23 to Aug. 8 in and likely would overlap a contemplated preseason tour by Chelsea and perhaps the start of the Premier League season.
“A lot of factors come into play, I guess, but we’ll see,” Pulisic said.
The United States failed to qualify for the 2012 and 2016 Olympic men’s soccer tournaments, a stumble that preceded the senior team’s failure to reach for last year’s World Cup. Pulisic thinks the U.S. could emulate Mexico, which won the 2012 Olympic men’s soccer gold.
“We’re a confident young group of guys and I think there’s no reason why we couldn’t,” he said. “We set big goals for ourselves and, yeah, that would be one of them. That would be something I think we could do.”
Pulisic was acquired by Chelsea in January from Borussia Dortmund for a 64 million euros (then $73 million) transfer fee, the most for an American player, then loaned back to the German club for the remainder of the season. He made his Premier League debut in the opening 4-0 loss at Manchester United and has started the last three league matches under new coach Frank Lampard, who replaced Maurizio Sarri.
“It’s amazing. I mean, it’s everything I hoped it would be and more. It’s incredible,” Pulisic said. “It worked out really well, for sure. Frank’s a great guy and he’s helped me so much and he understands where I’m coming from and he’s done a really good job and helped me, teaching us, especially a lot of the younger guys on the team.”
Pulisic laughed when asked who was the better player: himself or Mexican winger Hirving Lozano,
“I’m not going to give you like an Ibra answer here,” he said in a reference to huge-egoed LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who two years ago boasted “lions do not compare themselves to humans” when asked where he ranked himself among strikers. Pulisic, naturally introverted, is reticent at times when speaking with media.
“I’ll never be comfortable. I don’t like being in front of cameras,” he said. “I’m still getting used to it, I guess.”
Pulisic will be part of a rare trio of Americans this fall in Champions League Group D, joined by 18-year-old Ajax defender Sergiño Dest and Weah’s Lille, who is missing the match against Mexico and Tuesday’s friendly against Uruguay because of a hamstring injury.
Dest introduced himself to Pulisic this week and joked about the possibility of playing against him.
“I was asking him are you playing on the left side, right side, things like that?” Dest said with a smile.
Pulisic left Hershey, Pennsylvania, to sign with Dortmund at age 16. While living in Germany, he could meet up with McKennie, a starter for Schalke. McKennie is proud of his friend but doesn’t have a chance to follow his club exploits too closely.
“I’m not a big guy to watch sports,” McKennie said. “It’s always a big deal whenever you have an American you know being in Europe let alone at a giant club like Chelsea. I’ve heard he’s been doing well.”
Pulisic has played primarily on the flanks with Chelsea, and falling back deep at times is part of his responsibility
“Learning to help more on the defensive side of things, which is like a good challenge for me, as well,” he said.
With the U.S., he has increasingly ventured into the central portion of the field. Coach Gregg Berhalter changed Pulisic’s listing from midfield to forward for this training camp.
“We want him to be able to affect games in a number of different ways,” Berhalter said. “We want to be able to isolate him one vs. one at times but we also want him getting them ball between the lines.”
Notes: Dest played for the U.S. at this year’s Under-20 World Cup and could make his senior debut Friday. He said the Royal Dutch Football Association contacted him about the possibility of playing for the Netherlands’ Under-23 team. Dest said he was not sure whether he would accept an invite from the U.S. for next month’s CONCACAF Nations League camp. By playing in a competitive senior match, Dest would tie himself to the U.S.