DOHA, Qatar – Christian Pulisic might be American soccer’s Golden Boy, the first U.S. national team player to play in and win a Champions League final, the face of the 2002 World Cup team heading into Friday’s colossal Group B meeting with England (2 p.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports app).
Yet despite being The Anointed Once since exploding onto the international scene at the age of 17, Pulisic has also gone through his share of struggles.
In the coffee table book Pulisic released last month, the 24-year-old candidly details some of the darker ones he endured last year at Chelsea, his English Premier League club.
“I was battling depression, and it was a very tough period that saw me probably hit rock-bottom in February of 2021 and have to reach out to get professional help,” he says in “Pulisic: My Journey So Far.”
“Quite frankly, without the support of my family and my absolute closest circle of friends, I don’t know how I could have come through that period.”
Christian Pulisic on battling depression
USMNT star Christian Pulisic talks about the importance of mental health.
The reality of life in the world’s top domestic league is as cutthroat as it gets. One bad performance can lead to weeks on the bench, especially within an all-world team like the Blues.
Pulisic recounts speaking to U.S. legend Clint Dempsey, who starred at Fulham and Tottenham before returning to MLS to finish his career, about the grind of constantly having to prove yourself day after day after day.
“He said that he also felt that throughout his time in England,” Pulisic said of Dempsey, now a World Cup analyst for FOX Sports.
Dempsey remembers the conversation. He’ll never forget another one he had with the then-teenage Pulisic. It was moments after the U.S. lost to Trinidad and Tobago in 2017, a defeat that cost the Americans a spot in the 2018 World Cup — ending a streak of qualifying for seven consecutive tournaments.
“His head was down, obviously very upset – distraught – about us not qualifying,” Dempsey, the joint-top scorer in USMNT history along with Landon Donovan, said he told Pulisic after playing in his 141st and final international game. “I just put my arm around him like, bro, you couldn’t have done more than you did, in terms of goals and assists, trying to help put this team in a situation to qualify for the World Cup, especially at the age you are.
“Keep your head up, this is your team now,” Dempsey told Pulisic. “Get us back where we need to be.”
Pulisic on having to prove himself
Christian Pulisic talks about having to prove himself on the World Cup stage.
Five years later, Pulisic and the U.S. are here on the biggest stage. And Dempsey has enjoyed watching his attacking successor develop — particularly how Pulisic has adapted from blue-chip up-and-comer to the undisputed focal point for the U.S. up front.
“He’s in a new situation because now eyes are on him from the other team,” Dempsey said. “They’re double-teaming him, and they’re kicking him, and he’s got to figure out ways to solve that problem, because it’s a different now.
“Before they were other guys taking that attention away from him,” Dempsey added. “It’s tough, man. But it’s what you have to deal with being a big player for your country.”
Another tough thing Pulisic has to deal with at this World Cup is a lack of recent reps. The winger wasn’t starting regularly for Chelsea before the midseason break. Mostly he was coming off the bench, playing 10-30 minutes at a time.
“You have a guy that is playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said of Pulisic before the England game. “He’s in a very competitive environment, and he finds a way to keep getting himself on the field. And that’s all you can ask of a player. He has the mindset, the determination to stay disciplined, keep working hard and wait for his opportunity.”
Still, it’s an adjustment moving from supporting role to key starter.
“It’s hard to flip that switch and be able to turn that on if you’re not playing 90 every single week,” Dempsey said. “It’s hard to have that fitness, that confidence.”
As one of the trailblazers among Americans when it came to starring in — and not just playing in — the Premier League, Dempsey has enjoyed seeing other U.S. players join Pulisic in England.
Leeds United duo Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams are also making a name for themselves in the Prem this season. Others, such as Dempsey’s fellow Texan Weston McKennie of Italian titan Juventus, are excelling in other top European circuits. Some level of bias still exists, though, according to Dempsey.
USMNT prodigy Christian Pulisic sits down to talks about his road to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and being the face of the national team.
“When you’re in England, you can’t be as good as the British players — you have to be better to get minutes,” he said.
“The way American players are looked at is improving. They’re at bigger clubs, winning trophies, playing in the Champions League. But it still has a ways to go. When you see an American player at a big club being the main man for that club, I think that’s what it will truly change the perception.”
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Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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