(Reuters) - The pressure is on for "Captain America" Christian Pulisic to put on a superhero performance on his World Cup debut in Qatar, building on years of sky-high expectations from his U.S. fans.
He was the youngest man to feature in a U.S. World Cup qualifier six years ago aged 17 before suffering the bitter disappointment of failing to qualify for the 2018 edition.
But the Chelsea forward has emerged as the most recognisable face in a U.S. squad eager for redemption - and respect.
Coach Gregg Berhalter will unveil his final squad on Nov. 9 with Pulisic certain to be one of the first names on the list having already scored 21 goals in 52 internationals to stand sixth on the country's all-time scoring list.
The U.S. will be praying he does not pick up an injury ahead of the World Cup with Chelsea involved in so many matches.
"I have I don't even know how many games leading up. We have games every couple of days. So I have to be prepared as best I can take it game by game, prepare and take care of myself," he said after a draw with Saudi Arabia in the final warm-up match.
"And, you know, everything will fall into place once the World Cup comes around."
While Pulisic's role with the national team is clear, his place in the Chelsea side has appeared less certain at times.
He was frustratingly used as a second-half substitute through the London club's first five Premier League games this season with little time on the pitch, prompting concern that a lack of match practice could affect his performances in Qatar.
"I think it's a little bit worrying for Americans," said former England and Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher. "It doesn't look like he's going to be at his best in terms of fitness, energy, sharpness, or rhythm going into the World Cup."
Chelsea's appointment of new manager Graham Potter to replace Thomas Tuchel in September appeared to help Pulisic's situation, as he started and scored in their 3-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers last month.
But he sat on the bench against Aston Villa days later to the bewilderment of fans. He has made 11 Premier League appearances overall this season.
Across the pond, where the "big four" men's leagues - NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA - dominate advertising dollars and television viewers, Pulisic has become U.S. soccer's best hope for a true global superstar in the men's game.
"Christian is the ultimate competitor," said Berhalter. "It seems like he's been in football for the last decade. He's seen it all, done it all and I think the World Cup will be a great moment for him."
Leave a Comment