US soccer's newest phenom, 17-year-old Christian Pulisic, continued to turn heads on Friday afternoon with a pair of goals off the bench as the US national team cruised to a 6-0 win in World Cup qualifying at Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Borussia Dortmund prospect now has three goals in seven appearances for the USMNT – all in 2016 – after becoming the youngest goalscorer in team history when he opened his account in a May friendly against Bolivia. On Friday, he became the youngest US player to score in World Cup qualifying and the youngest player to record a brace for the national team.
But despite all the early accolades, there's one milestone Pulisic still hasn't reached yet for the Yanks: starting a game.
Some fans have certainly been clamoring for that to change, especially with the US all but assured of a berth in the final round of World Cup qualifying heading into their home game against Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday (8 pm ET; FS1, UniMás). But US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is taking a more measured approach in handling the youngster's minutes.
"Well, it’s a process," Klinsmann answered when asked after Friday's win if Pulisic is being considered for a starting role. "It’s obviously easier if you have all the results done and it’s all in your favor. And instead of a World Cup qualifier it might be turned into a friendly game. That’s a different story.
"To start a game in World Cup qualifiers with things on the line is tricky. You think about who you want to start, who grinds the first half and maybe 60 minutes into the game. Who grinds the opponent, who gets the opponent tired, who makes the physical plays."
Also factoring into Klinsmann's thinking is the amount of time Pulisic has gotten back with his club in Dortmund. He enjoyed a breakout campaign in the 2015-16 season, making 12 appearances across all competitions and scoring two goals for the senior team. However, a wave of high profile signings in his attacking midfield position has made playing time a valuable commodity for Pulisic, who will be staying with BVB despite reported offers from the Premier League and elsewhere in the Bundesliga.
"We bring him along and when we feel like, ‘OK, this is now a good opportunity,’ then we’ll do it," Klinsmann explained. "But at the same he needs minutes in his club team as well.
"Starting him is also questioning then, ‘How long can he actually go?’, because we don’t know. He just barely started preseason, he doesn’t have any games. So we start him and he cramps up after 60 minutes because his legs are not built yet and you only have three subs, so these are important things."
For his part, Pulisic is continuing to take everything in stride, saying the kinds of things you might expect of a young player trying just to get his foot in the door with a national team while noting that Klinsmann has not talked to him about the possibility of starting.
"He just tells me to keep going," the Pennsylvania native said after the game in Saint Vincent. "If the moment comes, it comes, but I’m just really excited to get any minutes I can right now with this team."
Eagle-eyed fans will also notice that Pulisic wore the No. 10 shirt – the number traditionally given to a team's star attacking player and made famous by the likes of Landon Donovan in the US and the likes of Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona abroad. However, there's no big story behind the number change, says Pulisic, who wore No. 17 while Darlington Nagbe wore No. 10 at this summer's Copa América Centenario.
"Obviously it’s an honor," Pulisic enthused. "I know some great No. 10s have been out there, but I was just given that number, so I’m excited to wear it."