The Best US Men’s Soccer Player We’ve Ever Seen Is Sick of American Disinterest
Christian Pulisic definitely has a point. But should a Wednesday-night friendly in Cincinnati cost $100?
Christian Pulisic continued his stellar play for the U.S. men’s soccer team last night, lodging an assist in America’s 3-0 victory over Morocco. It was his 10th assist in international contests, making him the fastest player in USMNT history to reach 20 goals and 10 assists.
Pulisic, in so many ways, is the prince that was promised when he was first called up at the age of 17, six years ago. The man they called Captain America has snatched up all the “youngest” monikers along the way: youngest to make an appearance for the national team, youngest to score a goal, youngest to captain the country. He’s done it all with a quiet, easy disposition. So it was somewhat surprising, listening to the winger’s postgame presser, to hear him suddenly speak like a jaded veteran.
“For whatever reason, I’m not super happy with the amount of Americans here, however that works out, if I’m being completely honest,” Pulisic said after the match. “But thanks to the ones who did come, and the support is always great from them.”
He was referring to the number of home fans who showed up to Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium — which was only 75% full, and dominated, in many sections, by Moroccan fans who arrived in force to cheer their nation’s first game on American soil since 2006. It’s hard to say how many USMNT supporters were actually there, but evidently not enough for the team’s de facto captain to feel like they had much of an advantage on the pitch (the victory notwithstanding).
Still, the remark is a fascinating one by Pulisic, who tends to avoid controversial sound bites, and could’ve easily wrapped his interview by uttering the following sentences a bit earlier: “I mean, it was a great win; we’re really happy. We started really well, got that early goal and yeah, just a really strong performance. But yeah, it’s nice to be back in America and playing again.”
It’s possible that the Chelsea forward, now used to playing in front of sell-out crowds throughout the English Premier League, and on Europe’s biggest stage in the Champions League (he helped his London side win the 2021 trophy, which earned him another rash of firsts: youngest Chelsea player and first American to score in the semifinals, first American to play in a Champions League final, etc.), is exhausted by America’s apathy towards world football.
That’s understandable. The USMNT is now almost five years removed from its cataclysmic loss to Trinidad and Tobago, a last-place squad that was playing for absolutely nothing, which kept the U.S. out of the World Cup in 2018. Pulisic was 19 at the time, and left the pitch with tears in his eyes. He played well last time, despite the result, but has done absolutely everything right this time around, highlighted by a hat-trick against Panama in a qualifier in March. (America will play in a group with England, Iran and the winner of the Ukraine/Wales match this upcoming Sunday.) It’s possible that Pulisic is simply looking to see the same fervor and outrage that his side received when it failed to make the World Cup channeled into excitement as November’s tournament in Qatar draws closer.
But that’s just the thing, the World Cup isn’t until November this year. Wednesday night’s game was a friendly, with no qualifying implications. The Stanley Cup semifinals are on. The NBA Finals start tonight. A lot of craziness is happening in the world. Americans will get amped up for a World Cup run (we play England the Friday after Thanksgiving, which will likely be the most-watched USMNT game ever), but there probably just isn’t enough passion for the program yet for it to take precedence.
Besides, the folks running Pulisic’s program are to blame for the low attendance last night, not the fanbase itself. U.S. Soccer has insisted on charging tickets in the $60 to $150 range. Next week’s match, against Uruguay, starts at $90 plus fees. You’re just not going to fill a stadium at that rate; the USMNT is not Dua Lipa. And all of these games are happening in the Midwest, too, currently an oversaturated market. Yesterday evening’s game took place in Cincinnati, which is the fourth time Ohioans have hosted our national team in eight months. (The last three were Cincinnati, Columbus and Columbus.)
Those choices made sense in the past; the program wanted to take advantage of frigid temperatures in its qualifiers, in order to trip up its mostly tropical CONCACAF opponents, and besides, Columbus has one of the most rabid concentrations of soccer superfans in the country. But, obviously, the shine can wear off. And can you really expect fans from New York or Los Angeles to fly to Cincinnati for a Wednesday game?
For now, Pulisic has a point, but U.S. men’s soccer isn’t exactly helping. The best way out of the mess — as has always been the case — will be a string of wins in the next World Cup. That success will rest almost entirely on the shoulders of America’s chosen son. He’s just hoping he’ll get a little more support along the way.
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