The stages of development are not linear, and not every stage along the line is a pleasant one. As the USMNT has more and more players making their mark in the biggest leagues in the world, one stage before they’re top stars on the biggest teams is that they’re going to be shuffled around a little bit until they, or the next generation, is established as indispensable.
Christian Pulisic, the US captain and probably their best player (certainly in the attacking areas) is now in the blender.
Chelsea reportedly set to bring in Raheem Sterling of the City of Man. It won’t be for pocket change, given that Sterling is still only 27 years old (somehow) and highly effective. With the arrival of Erling Haaland at Eastlands, City no longer have much need for false nines. Which means every player who’s played that role over the past two seasons — Sterling, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish, just to name a few — is being pushed to the small forward positions, creating something of a gridlock. Sterling has been slipping down the depth chart for a couple of seasons now, though he always seems to pop back into the lineup for his biggest games of the year. But he wasn’t ready to renew his contract after next season, and City are getting paid before he leaves for free.
Sterling’s best position is from the left side of the front line, whether it’s a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3. Which turns out to be Pulisic’s best position. Whether or not Pulisic has been given the proper chance to secure that top 11 spot permanently basically depends on who you ask. He only made 13 Premier League starts last season, some of them due to health, but he was available for much more. He did four more in the Champions League, and there are some Chelsea fans who go cross-eyed and purple when something is mentioned. her miss in madrid arises. Wherever you sit, Pulisic’s attacking stats (shots per 90, shots on goal per 90, goals per shot and such) ranked below most other Chelsea attackers. And together, last year’s Chelsea attack was seen as lacking the enthusiasm to keep up with City or Liverpool. Doesn’t add to everything nice about an image.
Whatever the excuse (the first being that Pulisic had trouble linking up with Romelu Lukaku earlier in the year like everyone else), it’s clear coach Thomas Tuchel doesn’t want to hear it. Not only is Sterling a day or two away from officially joining, but rumors have Chelsea hot too after either one. Rafina from Leeds either Richarlison of Everton. It’s clear that Tuchel wants more players who look like real wingers, which Pulisic really isn’t. Pulisic has tried to be the good soldier in the past, playing full-back or false nine when asked, but he hasn’t had much success either. He has his place, and it looks like he’s getting closer to being more than just a roster player.
Pulisic isn’t under as much pressure as some other Yankees who might not be playing regularly for their club. If he is healthy, Pulisic will start in Qatar no matter how many minutes he racks up at club level. But he is not going to want to go to Qatar rusty and lacking in feel and fitness, something a player can only achieve during playing time.
But moving to another club also carries risks. He knows the Chelsea manager, he knows the tactics, he knows his team-mates and even if his time on the pitch is limited, the fit is clear. None of those things are easily found elsewhere. Remaining in England would almost certainly mean a step down. Does Pulisic want to leave a Champions club? Where would he go? Newcastle have a left forward in Allan Saint-Maximin. West Ham are also supplied from that side. Actually, he would be a perfect fit at Brighton, but can they pay his fees and wages? Would you want to go there? His style suits her, but it’s not a Brighton-style move.
Abroad you have options just as risky. He has been mentioned as a weight in a deal for Juve’s Matthijs de Ligt, but that’s a needle to thread and Juve just want the cash (rumored to be in excess of $100m). There is now a hole in the form of Pablo Dybala there, but carving out a regular role in Turin is no easier than it is in West London. Lazio could probably use a left-sided attacker, but there has been no mention of that. Once again, Pulisic’s salary (rumored to be just under $10m a year) and the still-significant transfer fee Chelsea would want puts him out of reach for many mid-range Spanish and German clubs unless want to take a pay cut.
Pulisic is not the only USMNT stalwart whose immediate future is a jumble. Tyler Adams could be leaving Leipzig. Sergino Dest is not sure to stay at Barcelona as they look for any way to free up some change to try to get their tire finances right. Chris Richards, the most likely at the moment to partner Walker Zimmerman in central defense against Wales in the opening match of the World Cup, is the subject of the rampant speculation of the transfer. Looking around, it’s hard to tell exactly who, among the Qatari roster locks, will play regularly. Jesus Ferreira in Dallas for sure. Brenden Arronson will certainly get a fair chance at Leeds under manager Jesse Marsch. Yunus Musah is likely to be a key cog for Valencia. Jedi Robinson for Fulham on their jump to the Premier League? Walker Zimmerman will play every game for Nashville, but that’s about it. The forward position is always a mess, so most of the US backbone could be in and out of lineups before the tournament. Zack Steffen seems to be giving up the Championship with Middlesbrough to play regularly. It can be debated what kind of preparation the Championship is for the World Cup, but at least he will play and we will see. Can we say the same for Matt Turner at Arsenal?
For the US, this is part of growth.