An American in Dortmund: Is USMNT Experience Actually Good for Pulisic?
As we stated from the beginning, this column’s aim was to track Christian Pulisic and give an analysis of his play primarily for fans of the U.S. national team. However, this week we are going to flip the narrative thanks to the international break. Instead, I want to look at Pulisic’s work for the U.S. national team in general and see if it is helping his career for BVB. When you think of it, the answer may not be so obvious.
Before proceeding, let us set aside a few aspects of this discussion. First, regardless of the conclusion we reach, Pulisic will always play for the U.S. in every important/major match. He is too critical for the U.S. and as we’ve said he is probably by far the most talented player on the squad. So no argument we lay out in this article will convince any rational person to change this. Second, this is not an uncommon question for fans of a club to ask about international duty. Fans of clubs will always have conflict with national team fans because both are competing to get the most out of a player to meet their own goals, and often not the others. While we are talking about a specific case, it is not a unique one.
As has been stated in the past, Pulisic for the U.S. is the fulcrum of the attack; he is the creative playmaker through whom play goes, no matter where on the pitch he is playing. Normally, that is a positive for a player. If they are good enough to move around to maximize their skills and benefit their national side, it helps the club as it allows the player to gain experience in different positions without taking from the club in the training. This importance and focus, however, is different from his club play.
When he is on the pitch in Germany, he is an important but not vital part of the Dortmund squad. Depending on who is healthy and the match-ups Peter Bosz wants to see on the pitch, Pulisic may even start on the bench. See the Real Madrid match. While playing for Bruce Arena, Pulisic has a mentality of taking his side on his shoulders (metaphorically) and being the key cog in the attack. Under Bosz, he is a cog in the greater machine. At times, we see Pulisic struggle with his decision-making, too often taking on defenders himself rather than looking to pass in the attacking end, or making a run at a fullback when pulling the ball back and waiting for support is the more mature decision. Some of this is age, but is another major aspect the shift in roles?
Is this shift from most important to fighting for time detrimental to Pulisic’s league development? It does not necessarily have to be, and for further proof, you simply have to look at his teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He is in a similar situation – a key player for his national side, plays in a Federation where away match conditions can be difficult, young and has to know when to take control and when to distribute. He has handled both squads well and as he has matured does not let his international duty interfere with club responsibilities, as seen in this last transfer window.
Fear not fellow BVB fans. Bruce Arena and the U.S. coaching staff are not ruining our player. In fact, as his confidence grows with the Yanks, it should help his club play as well.