Tata Martino isn't one to dole out high praise to opposing players all too often, so it raised more than a few eyebrows on Saturday when the Mexico coach sang the praises of U.S. national team star Christian Pulisic, who Martino's Mexico will try to stop in Sunday's Gold Cup final.
Speaking ahead of Sunday's final, Martino made it clear his team will be focused on trying to contain the red-hot Pulisic, who is coming off a two-goal performance in the Gold Cup semifinal win over Jamaica, and who has been one of the stars of the Gold Cup.
"I think that Pulisic is one of the big emerging players in world football in this latest era without a doubt," Martino said on Saturday. "He’s one of the most unsettling players I have seen in recent times. I think if we don’t pay special attention to him, especially when we’re in attack, we’re going to have a bad time. He’s a player you have to pay special attention to precisely because he can single-handedly win a game.”
Pulisic has registered a team-leading three goals and three assists for the USMNT so far in the Gold Cup, but he has also appeared to take on a leadership role, looking far more comfortable in his status as the team's star.
"When I think about this month for him it’s been a lot of personal development in terms of him blossoming with his personality within the group, his importance to the team on the field," U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. "The skills haven’t changed from a month ago, but in terms of his role, what he’s comfortable with, how he’s embracing his role within the team, and his role on and off the field, I think it’s been really nice to see."
The past month has seen Pulisic complete his record-setting transfer to Chelsea while also gaining more familiarity with Berhalter's system, which has been constructed to fit comfortably with the versatile 20-year-old's attacking qualities.
"The most important thing we’ve focused on is giving Christian flexibility, putting him in position where he could affect the game in a number of different ways," Berhalter said. "We wanted to play him central, but also get him wide. When you think about him being central, arriving in the penalty box, the two goals (against Jamaica) were a result of him being in good positions to be able to finish off plays that end up in front of goal.
"When you think about some of the assists he’s had they’ve come in wide areas, notably against Curacao. With Christian we know he’s a top talent and we want to get him into position to affect the game. We know he can affect the game on an individual level, and he’s shown that so far in the tournament."