JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Christian Pulisic’s phone has been more active than usual the past few days.
Among texts, calls and social media, Pulisic got his share of congratulatory messages after scoring two goals and assisting on another in the United States’ 6-0 victory at St. Vincent and the Grenadines in a World Cup qualifier last week.
Even though some would question whether it was possible, Pulisic’s performance raised expectations and hype surrounding the 17-year-old midfielder who some think could be America’s next soccer star.
For now, though, Pulisic is likely to remain the U.S. squad’s super sub.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann made it clear Monday he intends to bring the talented teenager along slowly and is not likely to start him Tuesday against Trinidad and Tobago, the Americans’ finale in the semifinal round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.
“It’s important to kind of give younger players time and have that patience,” Klinsmann said Monday. “And when moments are there to give them the minutes or the start, it’s not an issue. We just need to make sure it all kind of comes at the right time. We are all excited about a very special talent when it comes through there. He has a long, long ways to go, and hopefully he goes a long way for many, many years to come.”
Although the Americans (3-1-1) haven’t secured a spot in CONCACAF’s hexagonal, a victory against the Soca Warriors (3-0-2) would clinch first place in Group C and set up a final-round opener at home against Mexico in November. Because the U.S. has a plus-13 goal difference, it could advance even with a loss because third-place Guatemala (2-2-1) is at plus-1.
“We badly want to win this game,” Klinsmann said. “We want to finish first in our group in order to get straight into a big one in the hexagonal.”
Tim Howard, who took a yearlong leave of absence from the national team following the 2014 World Cup, will return to goal against T&T. It will be Howard’s 32nd appearance in a World Cup qualifier, moving him past mentor and former teammate Kasey Keller as the team’s career leader in that category.
Midfield Michael Bradley and defender Michael Orozco return after one-game suspensions. Right back DeAndre Yedlin is suspended after getting his second yellow card of qualifying against St. Vincent.
Forward Clint Dempsey remains sidelined while undergoing tests for an irregular heartbeat, leaving Bobby Wood to start alongside Jozy Altidore.
Pulisic likely will be one of the first players off the bench, a role he welcomes for now.
“I’m ready for whatever comes,” he said. “It’s fine to be patient. I know that I have to develop because I’m a young player, so I’m just excited for how that happens. It’s been a crazy year for me going from a lot of youth teams and programs straight to the professionals and top teams. But it’s been really exciting and I’m really happy with how it’s gone so far. We’ll see how it pans out.”
Pulisic plays for Borussia Dortmund in Germany’s Bundesliga, and there was talk of a possible move to Liverpool. Following Dortmund’s summer additions, Pulisic figures to have even more competition for playing time.
“We make sure he grows with the more experienced older players, and it’s wonderful to see that,” Klinsmann said. “Obviously, there will be setbacks throughout his career, but right now it’s going very smooth for him. We hope when he gets back to Dortmund that he gets his minutes there as well, which is not easy. They are fully loaded now in their roster.
“So we’ll bring him along, and when I have the feeling that I need to hold him back a little bit, I will hold him back. When I have the feeling to give him a go, we’ll give him a go.”
Pulisic earned his first start for Dortmund in January and then earned his first cap for the U.S. national team a month later. He scored his first professional goal in the Bundesliga in April and then became the U.S. team’s youngest goal-scorer in the modern era in May.
“He’s a talented kid, for sure,” Bradley said. “What you all see is what we see up close on a daily basis. He’s a good kid. He’s smart. He knows what’s going on.”