Why Christian Pulisic is Different than Other American Players

What distinguishes Christian Pulisic from Landon Donovan and even Clint Dempsey is that Pulisic is faster than Dempsey and more skilled and creative than Donovan.

Dribbling

If Dempsey had the same electric pace that Pulisic has, he would have been more capable of eluding defenders and getting into even more scoring positions.

Pulisic is a dangerous and aggressive attacking player who can beat defenders going right or left. He even tends to go side to side on defenders until they are off balance, and then he takes off in the other direction.

This last quality makes him much different from Donovan. Donovan could beat defenders with change of direction or change of pace, but Pulisic can beat defenders with more of the trickery and skill that elite attacking players around the world use.

For the first time ever, there is an American player who can dribble straight past international competition or elite European club competition with real directness and score. Dempsey would have given anything to have that extra gear of speed that Pulisic has.

Passing

From all appearances, Pulisic is a more creative and adventurous passer than Donovan, but Dempsey as never hesitated to hit an audacious first time pass with accuracy.

Pulisic excels at quick combination passes and incisive final balls through the defense, and he has the vision to see openings in the defense quickly.

As much as Pulisic is a great 1v1 player, he’s equally as good as a passer where he creates goals and scoring chances every game. Pulisic already looks like a better playmaker than the United States has ever had, and when he first started for the U.S. in a playmaking role, the United States started playing a more creative and technical style of soccer than they had ever played.

Shooting & Scoring

Dempsey has never had any hesitation about attacking the goal or shooting, and Pulisic too has no problem pulling the trigger when he gets a foot of separation from his defender.

Like Donovan and Dempsey, Pulisic can score with both feet. You don’t see Pulisic waiting to get the ball back on his stronger right foot before shooting. He’ll unleash the shot off his left foot as soon as there’s an opportunity.

Pulisic has been scoring consistently for both the United States and for Borussia Dortmund, which is even more impressive.

Pulisic is only a teenager, and although his career has just started, we’ve seen enough to declare that he’s a level above Dempsey and Donovan, if only because he combines elite skill with elite speed.

 

Here are just a few highlights of Pulisic:

 

 

Statement Game from Christian Pulisic on Bundesliga Matchday 1

Christian Pulisic looks like he has Landon Donovan’s speed with Clint Dempsey’s technical ability and creativity.

Pulisic starts for Borussia Dortmund in an attacking position, and that already puts him ahead of all other American players in the past in terms of the skill required to play at that level.

Pulisic is playing in the Bundesliga, which is a league with much more skill than the English Premier League. Playing in Germany, Spain, or Italy has always been more impressive than playing club soccer in England.

Pulisic’s game on Matchday 1 for Dortmund was something of a statement game. The American teenager was impressive for Dortmund last season, but on Matchday 1 he was one of the focal points of a squad with the German playmaker and forward, Mario Götze, who scored the winning goal of the 2014 World Cup, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a striker that everyone wants because he’s one of the best scorers and Number 9s in the world.

The USA Number 10 has a lot of flash to his game, and more so than Dempsey, Pulisic is able to use that flair and skill to fake out defenders and blow past them off the dribble.

I can still remember how Donovan told the press after Benny Feilhaber scored his 2007 Gold Cup winning volley against Mexico that he (Donovan) was thinking “No!” when he saw Feilhaber about to hit his volley, and this illustrates how Feilhaber and of course Pulisic and Dempsey were more willing to go for big plays without overthinking them. Donovan was thinking no, but Feilhaber was thinking “I can smash this volley in with the outside of my foot.”

In the same way, Pulisic is an aggressive and bold player who plays with flair, and flair is unpredictable and hard to defend. Bruce Arena was right to start Pulisic as the United States’ playmaker and Number 10 behind Clint Dempsey and another forward. It’s possible that the leading role Pulisic played for the U.S. recently emboldened him to be more aggressive for Dortmund.

The way that Pulisic scored his goal on Matchday 1 by firing his shot between a small gap between two defenders to the far post is a perfect example of how Pulisic is the real deal. That goal required the boldness to take the shot where there was only half a chance, and it required the skill to be able to execute the shot in the Bundesliga from the run of play.

The most notable thing about the American teenager, Pulisic, is definitely the combination of skill, creativity, speed, and a big-game mentality. Dempsey didn’t have the extra gear of speed that Pulisic has.

 

The United States Must Build All Lineups around Christian Pulisic

The United States Must Build All Lineups around Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic should be the first name on the United States’ team sheet, and he should be on the team sheet in the Number 10 role.

When Bruce Arena first deployed Pulisic as a Number 10 beneath Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, what Arena did was set the United States up to showcase its best passing and best attacking play ever.

Recently, when the United States tied Mexico 1-1 in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Arena was somewhat forced to not use his first-choice players because they were operating on only a few days rest from a previous World Cup qualifier, but Pulisic nevertheless started. In the 3-4-3 formation used by Arena, Pulisic was operating out on the left wing in an attacking triangle, and this lessened his impact to attack Mexico and facilitate the American attack. Pulisic didn’t have as many touches on the ball out left, and he wasn’t in a position to feed Bobby Wood up top at striker as much as Pulisic could have in the middle.

Rotating players was excusable, but there was no need to use Pulisic out left or to use one less midfielder. Arena made the wise decision to start Kellyn Acosta in the center of the midfielder with Michael Bradley, and with Acosta helping out Bradley, there was no need to use three center backs instead of two. With the set-up used, there was a big gap between where Acosta and Bradley were and where Wood was up top.

This game against Mexico, while a good draw for the U.S., nevertheless showed how much the U.S.’s passing and attacking ability weakened with Pulisic out wide instead of behind the striker or strikers, and the team’s passing was certainly worse with Darlington Nagbe on the bench as one of the rotated out players.

Given Pulisic’s abilities and importance for the U.S., some minor criticism of Arena’s tactics against Mexico is warranted. The U.S. did earn an important point for the draw, but that point likely mostly came from an incredible and sensational golazo from Bradley.

Starting Pulisic as the center attacking midfielder should take precedence in an Arena lineup for the United States, and the real decision for Arena going forward will be whether or not he starts Acosta again with Bradley in more of a 4-2-3-1 or if starting two forwards is key for Arena. Whatever Arena goes with, Pulisic must be used centrally to orchestrate the American attack and to score and create goals.

 

 

Christian Pulisic Represents a New Level for American Soccer Players

Christian Pulisic Represents a New Level for American Soccer Players

Christian Pulisic is the first American soccer player to be starting at an attacking position for a top European club team. That already makes him different than other top American soccer players in the past.

The 18-year-old attacking midfielder from Pennsylvania Pulisic is not only technically-skilled enough to play for a club like Borussia Dortmund, but he also has electric speed, creativity, coolness under pressure, and great vision. Just for clarification, Borussia Dortmund is one of the top German club teams in the Bundesliga, which is a league that is much better than say the English Premier League in terms of overall skill and quality of play.

Pulisic has mostly featured as wing for Dortmund, but he has played centrally as a playmaker, which is where United States coach Bruce Arena started playing him several games ago. Using Pulisic as a Number 10 opened up the American attack making it more dangerous, and it also allowed Clint Dempsey to have a playmaker playing behind him that could actually feed him the ball in scoring positions and play on his level. The U.S. National Team has had the problem where Dempsey and Landon Donovan were much better than all of their teammates, but now Dempsey has an attacking player player playing with him who seems even better than Donovan. It could even be said that Pulisic is a better passer and assist man than Donovan, as Pulisic has displayed more creativity and trickery than Donovan who didn’t used to attempt the kind of bold and audacious passes that Pulisic has routinely been pulling off without any hesitation.

While the players on the national team are much better than in years past, Pulisic has been a revelation for the team not only for his playmaking and ability to set up Dempsey but also for his own scoring ability. Pulisic is clinical in front of goal and he doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger with either foot. Based on the type of skill and movement that Bobby Wood and Pulisic have shown in the attack, it’s fair to say that the United States is a more skilled and creative team than it was in the past, and Pulisic is the orchestrator and driving force of the United States now. Dempsey is still likely the best player, but Pulisic is the key to creating more opportunities for Dempsey and the teams other forwards.

When you watch Pulisic play for the United States, what you see is a player who plays with the combination of skill and speed need to beat defenders, and the U.S. didn’t used to have that. Donovan was skilled and fast, but it wasn’t at the same level as Pulisic, plus Donovan was also not quite as aggressive and direct against top competition. Dempsey was and is very technically-skilled and quick, but he lacks the extra gear of speed and quickness that Pulisic uses to blow past defenders.

 

Who Should the United States Start Against Mexico in World Cup qualifying?

Who Should the United States Start Against Mexico in World Cup qualifying?

Except for starting Jozy Altidore over Bobby Wood at center forward, coach Bruce Arena got his United States lineup right in the World Cup qualifying win over Trinidad and Tobago in Denver. The United States beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 as they should have, and the U.S. should obviously be playing for the win against Mexico in Mexico City.

Altidore played well for the United States in the last game where he even set up a goal, but Wood is the more dangerous player and the more difficult player to defend and contain. Arena also has the option of altering his formation, but he seems content with his 4-1-3-2 formation which has worked very well for the U.S. It’s even an attacking lineup, which the United States and Arena never used to use.

Wood over Altidore may be the only lineup change for the United States, and having Wood and Pulisic running at the Mexican defense in Azteca should be a more electric attack than the U.S. has ever fielded in Mexico’s enormous Azteca stadium in Mexico City. There is a possibility that Kellyn Acosta will start against Mexico with the logic being that the United States will need another center midfielder to keep possession and recovery possession, and both Bradley and Acosta cover a lot of territory.

Fabian Johnson didn’t play particularly well in either of the last two U.S. games, but nobody doubts his talent, speed, or experience. Nevertheless, Arena should play somebody over Johnson, and that somebody should be Acosta.

Using Acosta would alter the Americans’ formation, and just maybe Dempsey plays tucked in on the left rather than playing as a second striker. Pulisic moves all over the attack and all over the field for that matter, and rigidly confining Dempsey or Pulisic to wide or central roles on the field is a misunderstanding of how they play and how the sport is played.

A strong option for Arena against Mexico therefore is to insert Acosta into the lineup and not use a three-man defense with three center back, which is something the U.S. is comfortable enough with to really use against Mexico. Even though the U.S. just played Thursday, switching up the center backs or the defense at all feels risky. If a player or players get tired, then that’s what substitutes are for. Going with the 4-3-3 formation would help with the fatigue from the recent game since the 4-3-3 would have Nagbe, Bradley, and Acosta as a three-man midfield with three center midfielders to keep possession and recover possession, which would make for an attacking three of Pulisic, Wood, and Dempsey who are all fluid and versatile attackers who know how to move into space and show for the ball. Rather than trotting out some unproven and new defense, Arena should play a three-man midfield of Nagbe, Bradley, and Acosta

Here’s who World Soccer Source believes the United States should start against Mexico:

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Right Back: DeAndre Yedlin

Center Back: Geoff Cameron

Center Back: John Brooks

Left Back: Jorge Villafaña

Right Center Midfielder: Kellyn Acosta

Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley

Left Center Midfielder: Darlington Nagbe

Right Wing: Christian Pulisic

Center Forward: Bobby Wood

Left Wing: Clint Dempsey

 

The United States Lineup Was Too Conservative in Draw Against Panama

The United States Lineup Was Too Conservative in Draw Against Panama

Bruce Arena fielded an overly conservative United States lineup featuring Jermaine Jones against Panama, and the team showed less passing and attacking prowess in a 1-1 tie. The United States could have used the full three points against a Panama squad that is frankly not good enough to warrant an overly defensive lineup. Not attacking the opponent might be the best way to let the opponent attack you.

In the previous win against Honduras, Arena used only one defensive midfielder behind a line of three attacking midfielders and two forwards, and this setup allowed Christian Pulisic to pull the attacking strings behind Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore. Using a 4-4-2 formation with Jones next to Michael Bradley in the middle of the midfield, the United States didn’t open up the Panamanian defense enough or create enough scoring chances.

Jozy Altidore, who was involved and impressive in his playmaking as a center forward was largely invisible against Panama in a formation that didn’t get him enough touches as it had against Honduras.

Panama was all over Pulisic pushing him around and trying to take him out of the game with physicality, but the Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder powered through the physicality and was largely unfazed. On the U.S.’ only goal which Dempsey scored, Pulisic shook off and danced around two Panamanian defenders to set up Dempsey from point blank range, and Dempsey didn’t miss. Pulisic continued to display tons of skill and impressive speed, and there can be little doubt now that Pulisic is the best U.S. player along with Dempsey. Pulisic looks to be better than both Landon Donovan and Dempsey, and compared to Dempsey, Pulisic is much quicker and faster, and a better passer.

The American defense was bad with Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, and Jorge Villafaña from right to left, but Villafaña continues to impress. Zusi, Gonzalez, and Ream shouldn’t be starting when there are better options, which there weren’t.

Darlington Nagbe was excellent again with his passing, slashing runs, and speed, which he uses to bring the ball into dangerous areas in the attack. In the next U.S. game, Arena would be wise to continue to use Nagbe on the left wing with Pulisic in the center and Paul Arriola on the right wing, since Sebastian Lletget is now injured.

Arena made a roster mistake in not bringing Juan Agudelo. Once Altidore was ineffective against Panama, the U.S. needed a sub for Altidore, and there wasn’t one. This should have been Agudelo. Altidore needs a lineup that feeds him the ball more, and his passing and dribbling was impressive against Honduras. Still, it’s hard to start Altidore over a healthy Bobby Wood, who was injured for these two World Cup qualifiers. Even though Altidore impresses, Wood is better at stretching the defense than Altidore, and the Pulisic will be an even bigger weapon with a striker of Wood’s smoothness, directness, and speed.

The big takeaways from this game were several: Altidore continues to improve, Pulisic is outstanding as the playmaker, Dempsey and Pulisic are the best players on the team, and an attack-minded lineup is the best U.S. formation.

There’s no way around the fact that being satisfied with a tie against Panama is a little weak and small-minded. The United States is too good at soccer now to be ok with a tie against Panama when the U.S. could have really used the full three points for the win.

Who Should the United States against Panama?

Who Should the United States against Panama?

Whatever Bruce Arena does, he should be sure not to change the attack-minded nature of the United States’ lineup that beat Honduras 6-0. Arena only used one defensive midfielder, Michael Bradley, as opposed to using a defensive midfielder and a box-to-box midfielder, and this allowed the United States to overload its lineup with attacking players without having too little defensive coverage in front of the defense.

There’s no reason to change goalkeepers, especially since Brad Guzan isn’t even on the roster, so Tim Howard should start in goal again. However, the rest of the defense will have some changes as one of the two starting center backs, John Brooks, is unavailable. Arena was using Geoff Cameron at right back, but Arena may need to move him back to center back because otherwise the center of the American defense may be too week.

The U.S. could start Cameron with Tim Ream, and this would give the United States two athletic and technical center backs to try to get three more points against Panama. Omar Gonzalez is a decent center back, but he frequently looks prone to be wrong-footed or outfoxed with lateral quickness and speed. Likewise, Matt Besler, the only U.S. center back option, is fast but somewhat mediocre for international play. If Arena wants to be really bold again, then he could use Walker Zimmerman who is fast enough, technical enough, and aggressive enough to make for a quality center back in international play. Compared to Gonzalez and Besler, Zimmerman is likely harder to get past and more intimidating for attackers.

In the Front Six, which would include the defensive midfielder, the three attacking midfielders, and the two forwards, the United States should change as little as possible from the lineup that pounded Honduras. For one of the first times ever, the United States looked like they were playing skill soccer, and that lineup produced quick passing, creative play, and goals. Since one of those starters, Sebastian Lletget, cannot start against Panama due to injury, Arena should let Paul Arriola start at right wing over Alejandro Bedoya. Arriola is playing great for Club Tijuana, and Arriola plays the type of free-flowing soccer that Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Darlington Nagbe play.

Here’s who the United States should start against Panama:

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Right Back: Geoff Cameron

Center Back: Omar Gonzalez

Center Back: Tim Ream

Left Back: Jorge Villafaña

Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley

Right Wing: Paul Arriola

Attacking Midfielder: Christian Pulisic

Left Wing: Darlington Nagbe

Forward: Jozy Altidore

Forward: Clint Dempsey

 

The United States Routs Honduras with Attack-Heavy Lineup

The United States Routs Honduras with Attack-Heavy Lineup

Bruce Arena fielded an attack-heavy U.S. Men’s National Team lineup with only one defensive midfielder, and it allowed the U.S. to destroy Honduras 6-0. Previous coaches of the United States, including Arena, were always reluctant to field lineups with multiple creative attacking players who could facilitate possession and proactive play, but Arena’s lineup allowed for lots of combination play and goals. He started Sebastian Lletget, Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore all at the same time. American soccer fans have been waiting for the United States to beat a decent opponent with skill instead of just hustle and heart for a long time.

Max Bretos of ESPN commented on social media during the game that Clint Dempsey had been waiting for five years for a player like Christian Pulisic who could feed him passes and combine with him, and how true this is. Dempsey and Pulisic were also combining with Lletget, Nagbe, and Altidore, who displayed a massive improvement in his ball control and deftness in tight spaces with little time to think and react.

Even without Bobby Wood starting, the United States was stretching the Honduran defense as Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore, and Lletget all took turns making runs. Arena deserves lots of credit for fielding such an attack-minded lineup, and the decision to use Pulisic as a Number 10 or attacking midfielder rather than using Sacha Kljestan was key to opening up the Honduran defense and getting the most out of Altidore and Dempsey.

Arena was also fairly bold in his decision to let Jorge Villafaña start at left back where he displayed attacking skill going forward along with the endurance, speed, and defending to mark Honduras’ attackers. Villafaña always slowed up his attacking counterpart either by getting in front of him or dispossessing him. Even when Villafaña was beaten or out of position, he recovered enough ground to prevent any dangerous advances on the USA goal.

The United States will be without Lletget for the next World Cup qualifier against Panama, but Arena should be praised again for calling up Paul Arriola to replace him, as Arriola brings many of the same attacking and technical qualities that Lletget brought to the right wing. Alejandro Bedoya did a fine job of subbing in for Lletget after Lletget was hacked and injured, and using Bedoya against Panama would be acceptable since he showed more impact and effectiveness than in recent previous appearances.

Whether the coach of the United States uses Kellyn Acosta in the midfield with Bradley or goes with Bedoya or Arriola in a line of three attacking midfielders, the U.S. should have more than enough quality, speed, and verve to beat Panama on Tuesday in Panama. Look for Arena to field a similar type of proactive lineup again, even if that means using Acosta as a central midfielder to be Bradley’s deputy because Acosta brings aggressive, direct, and skillful play to the team.

Big Bruce overloaded the USA lineup with technical and creative attacking players against Honduras. Will he do it again against Panama, and will it signal a change in the United States’ playing style?