Americans Abroad: Thriving Pulisic faces tough battle for minutes

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Lars Baron
The teenager had an incredible week with a birthday, goal and award nomination, but his strong play is being equaled or bettered by those around him

It’s been quite the week for Christian Pulisic.

The teenager turned 19 on Monday. He was named to Tuttosport’s shortlist for its Golden Boy award, given to Europe’s best player under the age of 21, on Tuesday. Wednesday, he scored his second goal of the Bundesliga season —  and Borussia Dortmund’s 3,000th —  in a 3-0 victory over Hamburg. Friday, his head coach Peter Bosz declared Pulisic “must win” the Golden Boy. And on Saturday, he was active in a Dortmund 6-1 rout of Borussia Monchengladbach.

Looking at that, and seeing Pulisic has started all but one of Dortmund’s Bundesliga games this season, you might assume he’s essentially locked down a spot in his side’s XI.

But, that might be a dangerous assumption to make.

On Saturday, Maximilian Philipp, starting on the left wing, scored two goals and added an assist in the victory. It was his second straight game with a brace, though in between the outings he missed the win over Hamburg after being dropped in favor of Pulisic and Andriy Yarmolenko.

Meanwhile, Yarmolenko has been a revelation for Dortmund since being bought at the transfer deadline as an Ousmane Dembele replacement. He’s arguably been better than the youngster was, adding an assist in Bundesliga play and scoring an impressive goal in the Champions League in just three starts.

"We have a lot of good players so we know that anyone we put on the field is going to do a good job and that's what's happening at the moment," Pulisic said in quotes published on the Bundesliga’s official website. "We feel really good right now. We're confident and we'll take it from there."

Christian Pulisic Pierre Emerick Aubameyang celebration

Dortmund has three players for two spots and all three are playing well. It seems impossible to sit Philipp, given his recent displays. But Pulisic and Yarmolenko don’t really deserve to sit either.

It seems like a rotation is inevitable until one player’s form drops off — so it would not be surprising to see Pulisic sit this week at some point, whether it’s the Champions League contest against Real Madrid on Tuesday or the clash against Augsburg on Saturday.

It’s just the realities of life for a young player at a top European side. Proving yourself doesn’t stop after a good week or a good month.

The good news for Pulisic is that it would seem impossible for him to ignore the quality around him and grow complacent. He also has a coach who clearly rates him, and a “mentality” to succeed, as Bosz said on Friday. And it isn’t the first time Pulisic has had to battle for spots on Dortmund.

So great week aside, the hunt for playing time continues. But Pulisic has done nothing over the past few years to indicate that he’s not up for that challenge.


JOHNSON GETS FIRST START


Fabian Johnson Tony Jantschke Gladbach

Opposite Pulisic on Saturday was Fabian Johnson. Casual observers likely would not bat an eye at Johnson starting for Borussia Monchengladbach, but that was actually his first start for the club this season.

After Johnson picked up an injury at the start of the campaign, he has been slow to reintegrate into the squad. Before Saturday, he had made just three appearances in the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal — all as a substitute. He got 72 minutes Saturday in the shellacking his side received at the hands of Dortmund, and it’s hard to praise anyone when their side loses 6-1.

But Johnson, despite his dip in form for the national team, remains one of the most talented players the U.S. can put onto the field at either winger or fullback. Despite talk he would only have one position for the national team, other attacking choices may be preferred and Johnson’s best work with the U.S. has come as a fullback.

Either way, getting a start and significant minutes in a game will only be beneficial to his fitness and his effectiveness for October.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga, Bobby Wood started twice this past week for Hamburg, but wasn’t particularly effective in either defeat — first to Dortmund and then to Bayer Leverkusen. Though he’s playing, it’s possible his knee injury is continuing to affect his performance.

Also making two starts this week was teenager Weston McKennie, who lined up for Schalke against Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim — both defeats. It’s a positive step for the 18-year-old, who lined up as one of the pair of holding midfielders for Schalke, and shows he’s been working hard enough to earn the chance.


MIAZGA SHINES AT THE RIGHT TIME


Felipe Caicedo Matt Miazga Lazio Vitesse

After the troubles the U.S. national team had in defense during its qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras, there is plenty of question as to who will get the call for the final two qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago in a few weeks. Injuries have complicated that picture even more.

Geoff Cameron remained out this weekend for Stoke City's 4-0 weekend defeat to Chelsea. Initial reports on his hamstring injury suggested he would have difficulty making their match against Chelsea, so it isn’t terribly surprising. With that said, there’s not a lot of time for him to recover, to think of him as a sure thing at this point would be dangerous.

That could open things up for another defender, and Matt Miazga might be coming on at the right time.

The center back has now started his side’s last five games, including this weekend’s away win against Ajax. Miazga played well enough to earn an Eredivisie Team of the Week nod from one publication, AD.

Miazga did well in his limited opportunity in the Gold Cup, but was not receiving playing time yet for Vitesse when the September qualifiers rolled around. Now he is — and got a taste of Europe when he started Vitesse’s 3-2 Europa League loss to Serie A side Lazio a few weeks back.

Will that be enough to get him onto the roster for October? Only Bruce Arena knows the answer to that question.


YEDLIN MAKES SECOND STRAIGHT START


DeAndre Yedlin Solly March Newcastle Brighton

While Cameron sat in Premier League action, DeAndre Yedlin did play, and once again went the full 90 minutes in Newcastle’s 1-0 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion in Premier League play. It certainly seems the right back will be ready to take up the same role for the national team next month.

Whether he’ll be backed up by another non-domestically based American is an open question at this point. Timmy Chandler has played every minute of the Bundesliga campaign for Eintracht Frankfurt and been solid.

Eric Lichaj has been limited to strictly cup duty for Nottingham Forest, and that will end until the FA Cup, as Forest was bounced from the League Cup by Chelsea in a 5-1 defeat. But both may be left out if Arena feels Graham Zusi can do a serviceable job as a backup.


GOOCH SCORES FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP GOAL


Lynden Gooch Davy Klaassen Sunderland Everton

Another American playing the Championship who has been mostly limited to the League Cup has been Lynden Gooch. The 21-year-old Sunderland attacker had started a pair of games in the Cup — including the past week’s 3-0 loss to Everton. But he had been relegated to just six substitute appearances for the club in league play.

However, that changed this weekend as Gooch received the start against Cardiff City, going the full 90 in a 2-1 loss. Gooch earned a penalty and scored it, delivering not only his side’s only goal in the contest, but the second of his career and first in league play.

“It was my first league game for a long, long time,” Gooch told Sunderland TV after the game. “And I was happy to step up and get the goal.”

Injuries helped contribute to the opportunity and Gooch admitted he needs to keep working hard to put himself into consideration. But after struggling with injuries last year, Gooch continues to make positive strides in the right direction.

Another American who has struggled with injuries, Emerson Hyndman, made his return to the field last week. Hyndman came on as a late substitute in Bournemouth’s League Cup win over Brighton and Hove Albion. And the midfielder is hopeful to find his way into manager Eddie Howe’s plans after his brief season debut.

“The gaffer told me he sees me in and around it this year so all I can do is work hard in training and see where it takes me,” Hyndman told the Bournemouth Echo.

“Playing in the first team and getting involved in the match days is a big thing for me.

“I am optimistic. I’m training hard every day and doing my best to try to impress.

“It’s just making that next jump and achieving that next target.”


BOYD GETS FIRST GOAL OF THE CAMPAIGN


Terrence Boyd Darmstadt

Speaking of positive strides, Terrence Boyd scored his first goal of the season in what will go down as a very efficient performance for Darmstadt. Entering just before stoppage time with his team down 3-1, Boyd scored just two minutes after entering against Dynamo Dresden. Incredibly, Darmstadt scored another goal moments later to snatch a 3-3 draw.

The move to Darmstadt has not worked out like Boyd likely would have hoped. After an initial chance last year, his playing time diminished and the club was relegated from the Bundesliga. More playing time has not materialized for him in the second division, as Boyd has been limited to six substitute appearances and no starts this season.

Perhaps this outing can spark a positive change in fortune for the 26-year-old striker and allow him to find his way into more playing time in the near feature.

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