For the fourth time in five games, Cristian Pulisic did not take the field for Chelsea. Though Chelsea ended their match with a comfortable 2-0 win against a stingy Brighton, much of the post-match attention was directed at the lonely American sitting on the sidelines. Even though Pulisic has been with the club for barely three months, the American’s lack of playing time spurned numerous questions about his future as a blue. How come Cristian Pulisic, the jersey-selling, franchise-broadcasting, Dortmund-bred starlet continues to struggle to receive minutes in Chelsea’s first team? Should Chelsea supporters, American Soccer fans, and Pulisic himself be worried about this recent development? Is Cristian Pulisic’s time at Chelsea doomed from here on out?
The answer to these questions may seem frustratingly routine, but it’s imperative in the case of Cristian Pulisic: he needs more time. Cristian Pulisic is still a kid. He presents massive amounts of potential that are seldom paralleled throughout his sport. Pulisic, however, needs multiple seasons to allow his game and his mentality to mature. There is simply no point in cursing a 21-year-old’s career after a series of matches where he didn’t feature.
At an extremely young age, Pulisic carries the entire brand of US Soccer on his back. Contrary to the actions of media outlets and reactionary supporters, heaping extra pressure onto this already heavy burden will not spur him forward. It will only accelerate his failure.
The main impetus behind this piece was to emphasize the need for patience in the case of Cristian Pulisic. Regardless of how good you think he is – or how overrated you believe he will prove – he deserves more than a handful of matches to answer these questions for himself. Though a clear and focused mindset would benefit him most, Pulisic is surrounded by critics that yap at him from his two continents. These ever-present vultures – the talking heads of ESPN FC, English papers desperate for scandal, and American know-it-all football supporters who’ve just played their fifth game of FIFA continue to circle. They wait for a single wrong step upon which they can tear Pulisic apart like they have torn apart so many prospects before him.
Pulisic is a young player with a long road ahead of him. At Chelsea FC in 2019, however, Pulisic must take on the role of a grown man.
As Frank Lampard pumps minutes into the hands of British youngsters like Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, and Mason Mount, each player is required to return his manager’s trust with results. Each of these three players has done far more than just deliver on this promise. They have exceeded expectations by scoring goals, contributing to attacks, and, perhaps most importantly, reinvigorating the club with a determined winning mindset.
For his entire career, Pulisic has played the role of the Wunderkind whose successes come as symbols of future greatness and whose failures are swept aside as a side-effect of inexperience. Pulisic’s youthful glow, however, has worn thin. In a locker room filled with young talent, Pulisic no longer stands out because of his age and nationality. He must now make himself known with the thing that got him to this very position in the first place: his game.
The match against Brighton signaled that Pulisic’s skills may not impress his current manager. After a 7-1 rout of Grimsby, Chelsea shocked many fans with a lineup including both Pedro and Willian - two players in their thirties who have lacked consistent quality for numerous seasons. Pulisic, it seemed, was the perfect replacement. Today’s match could have been an ideal scenario for the American to prove himself to the Stamford Bridge faithful. This dream-like scenario in which Pulisic starts against Brighton, scores his first Chelsea goal, and leaps into Lampard’s arms, however, was not meant to be. Does that mean Chelsea fans should panic? Of course not. It means that today was not his day.
But Chelsea has a long season ahead of them.
With injuries peppering the squad and four competitions stretching the club to its barest proportions, Pulisic will not have to wait long before he receives regular opportunities to shine. Soon, Lampard will arrive at Pulisic’s locker with an offer of trust. Can Pulisic return his manager’s faith? Only time will tell.