Christian Pulisic tackles big expectations with help from veteran teammates

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – What do Google and Christian Pulisic have in common? Both arrived in the same September week in 1998.

While one became an Internet behemoth, the latter has turned into an online sensation after scoring a goal and assisting another in a World Cup qualifying win against St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday.

While the buzz has ensnared even those who don’t doggedly follow soccer, Pulisic has not paid much attention to it.

“I’m ready for whatever comes,” Pulisic told reporters on Monday. “It’s fine to be patient. I know I have to develop. I know I’m a young player, so I’m excited for how that happens.”

US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has not indicated whether the 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund attacker will earn his first start against Trinidad and Tobago in Jacksonville on Tuesday night (8 pm ET; FS1, UniMás), though he did say at his pregame press conference that he will field his strongest possible lineup.

Whether or not that includes Pulisic, the German-born head coach is bullish on his young prodigy's long-term prospects.

“We’re all excited about him, a very special talent that comes through there,” Klinsmann said. “He has a long, long way to go and hopefully goes a long way for many, many years to come. So we make sure he’s comfortable in our group, we make sure he kind of grows with the more experienced, older players, it’s wonderful to see that.”

The older players in the US camp, including defender Geoff Cameron and Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, have taken the teenager from Pennsylvania under their wing.

“We’re trying to get him involved with the older guys and get him to feel more comfortable,” Cameron said. “He’s a really, really good kid who has a bright future. You can see the talent that he has. It is a slow process. He is learning that in Dortmund where he is fighting for a spot to get into the 18, where there are a lot of good players in front of him. It’s the same here where he has the experience and you can see his potential.”

Pulisic is far from the first teenager to feature for the USMNT. Current New England Revolution forward Juan Agudelo was 18 when he scored on his debut against South Africa in 2010. Meanwhile, Freddy Adu, Bobby Convey and Eddie Gaven all earned caps before their 18th birthday.

What separates Pulisic from that group is his ability to produce in competitive matches. Agudelo and Gaven have never appeared for the USMNT in a World Cup qualifying match, Adu scored once in six appearances and Convey scored zero in seven qualifying caps.

Instead, Pulisic – who played his first game wearing No. 10 for the US on Friday – can look to the example of the man who wore that number for such a long time for the national team, Landon Donovan. The now-retired Donovan scored on his US debut at age 18 and went on to score 12 World Cup qualifying goals and a US-record 57 total.

A decade ago, another mainstay, Michael Bradley, made his debut with the USMNT as a teenager. But, the current Toronto FC captain was 19 when he suited up for the Stars and Stripes.

“He is a talented kid for sure,” Bradley said. “What you all see is certainly what we see up close on a daily basis. I think he’s a good kid. He is smart. He knows what’s going on. You can have real conversations with him. You can talk football with him. Again, he has opinions. He pays attention. I think those are all important things.”

Cameron, Bradley and others around the team keep referring to Pulisic as a kid, because he still is until September 18.

“It’s been a crazy year for me, obviously, going from a lot of youth teams and programs straight to the professional and top teams,” Pulisic said. “it’s been exciting. I’m really happy with how it’s gone so far. We’ll see how it pans out.”