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Christian Pulisic cap-tied to U.S. after playing in World Cup qualifier

The 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder was also eligible to play for Croatia.

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Christian Pulisic said on Tuesday evening that he’d been dreaming of playing for the U.S. national team. The Hershey, Pa., native already had represented his country at the U-15 and U-17 levels and recently has been the subject of considerable hype and interest thanks to his rapid progression at German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund.

Considering his potential, one might assume his senior debut was inevitable. But considering the 17-year-old Pulisic also was eligible to play for Croatia through his grandfather, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann wasn’t going to take any chances. Knowing that just a second on the field during an official senior competition would tie Pulisic to the U.S. for life, Klinsmann had the playmaker join the squad in Columbus after fending off a short illness. Then everything went according to the ideal plan. The Americans blew open Tuesday’s must-win World Cup qualifier against Guatemala and with his team ahead by three goals, the manager used his third substitute to send Pulisic onto the Mapfre Stadium field for Graham Zusi.

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Pulisic, who’s made four Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund, looked quite comfortable during his nine-minute stint and had a couple promising touches on the ball. He was thrilled following the Americans’ 4-0 win.

“It’s amazing just to meet all these guys,” he said. “They took me in right away and it felt good to be part of the team. To get on the field, obviously, it’s been a dream of mine to play for the U.S. national team so it finally came true and I’m thankful.”

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​Pulisic said he spoke with Klinsmann about the best destination for him this week—the U-23 team was playing Colombia for an Olympic berth in Frisco, Texas—and decided Columbus was the place.

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“We talked about it,” Pulisic said. “JurgenKlinsmann called me and we had some discussions. I got sick. It was unfortunate. But we felt it was the best time to come in with the men’s national team and that’s what we decided to do. It worked out. Good luck to those guys [the U-23s]."

U.S. veteran Kyle Beckerman, 33, marveled at Pulisic’s temperament and maturity.

“I thought he was great,” the midfield stalwart said. “I thought he was really comfortable already, especially for a 17-year-old. It seems like he has a really good head on his shoulders. He’s in a great place to keep learning and get better and as you saw tonight, he looked like he’s been in [U.S. camp] a bunch of times.

“He’s got the poise in his play … If he came early, you have 10 days to get used to us, but he came in just here in Columbus, which was a pressure situation, and he stood right in and showed a lot of promise. It’s exciting for the future.” 

Klinsmann concurred and explained how he prepared the teenager for the big stage.

"We prepared Christian just to do it the way he does it with his club team," the manager said. "Don’t overthink. When you are a younger player, you tend to always be getting very nervous, very excited, and you overthink some situations. But he was very calm. He was very balanced. I told him just do it like you do at Dortmund. Just have the same approach, and that's what he did. 'Go at people,' I told him. No problem if you lose a ball. No issue at all. Just turn around and chase it back. That’s what he did. It’s nice."