Christian Pulisic has accepted being his “best self” is all the United States want from him after spending years obsessing about being the team’s talisman.
The Chelsea forward is set to play a big part when the USA launch their Qatar World Cup campaign against Wales on Monday.
Gregg Berhalter’s team later face games against England and Iran, and their presence at the finals comes as a huge relief after the team surprisingly missed out four years ago.
The US missed out on the Russia 2018 finals after losing 2-1 against Trinidad and Tobago in their final qualifier, described by Pulisic as a “freak game”.
All the results that had to go against the Americans did just that, and they were left despondent and distant from the action that unfolded.
Pulisic says he used that failure as “a lot of motivation” this time around, explaining his disappointment by saying: “A lot was going on in my head. One of my biggest dreams was to be playing at a World Cup.”
He was just 19 at the time of the finals in Russia, starring as a teenage breakout star in Germany for Borussia Dortmund, and has since relocated to the Premier League.
The acclaim that was coming his way was tough for the young Pulisic, and he said: “To be honest, I took a lot of that weight on my shoulders at that time because I felt it was my job to help the team and score goals to put us in a position to qualify for that World Cup.
“That whole process was definitely tough on me and in the end not qualifying was one of the biggest disappointments of my life.”
— U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (@USMNT) November 20, 2022
Pulisic explained, in an interview released by US Soccer, how initially he felt “a little chip on my shoulder throughout the qualifying process” this time around.
“I felt like I had to really perform and be the main man at times,” he said.
“But there came a point when I realised I don’t need to be that with this team. There’s so many unbelievable players in this team now that I can just be my best self and be a part of the teams and that’s enough.
“I used my team-mates and leaned on them at times and the guys did an unbelievable job.”
He feels “incredibly proud” to qualify this time around.
“Playing in the World Cup would obviously mean everything for me,” Pulisic said.
“Knowing a lot of these guys for so long, and being able to do it with them by my side, is definitely special and hopefully a moment we’re going to cherish for the rest of our lives.”