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Was Pulisic's Promise of a Win at Azteca too Much? A VICE Sports Debate

The Wonderkid is indisputably coming into form on the pitch, but what message does this send?

by Aaron Gordon and Liam Daniel Pierce
Jun 9 2017, 8:08pm

Kyle Terada—USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the United States men's national team came away with a solid 2-0 victory against Trinidad and Tobago in the World Cup Qualifiers. After a lot of possession and poor finishing, 18-year-old Christian Pulisic left the field with the game's only two goals. Next up? Mexico at Estadio Azteca on Sunday night.

In a post game interview, Pulisic went on to say, "It's gonna be a tough one down there in Mexico. But we really want some revenge on them from when they got us earlier this year. So, we're really confident going into that game. We're going to come out with a win there, too."

Well we here at VICE Sports decided to see whether or not the young pup deserves to walk so tall on his way into one of the most daunting venues in sports.

Aaron Gordon: For me, his postgame comment that the U.S. is going to win at Azteca is super exciting. He said it with such nonchalance and matter-of-fact calmness that it came off as natural, not pre-planned braggadocio. He has already played at a higher club level than any other U.S. player in history and is performing well. He played at the Bernabeu in a Champions League knockout game. When he steps on the field Sunday, he will be one of the three best players on the field. He has no reason to be intimidated by Azteca or Mexico, and it wasn't until that comment I realized just how unprecedented that is for this national team.

Liam Daniel Pierce: I'm processing things more along the lines of team dynamics. I've seen what the 100,000-seat Azteca can do to the USMNT, and it's not pretty. It is a holy place for El Tri. The USMNT have just one win there—in a friendly nonetheless. A draw elicits wild celebrations. A recent ESPN FC piece talked about what this historic rivalry means for both sides, and it's clear that Mexico gives more of a fuck—as a nation and a team. They won't take this comment lightly. For young-gun Pulisic to all-but promise a win felt a little hasty. You can still see the Trinidad & Tobago battle field poking through the glass of the interview booth. I agree that Pulisic has earned the right to be confident—he has already played at a level no others on the USMNT have—but I think it bodes poorly for him to step so brazenly as a rep for the team. He's earned his stripes on the field, but perhaps not quite yet in the clubhouse. "We're really confident going into that game" is one thing. But then to promise a win feels like a setup for ridicule after failure.

AG: I don't think it bodes poorly at all that Pulisic is stepping into a leadership role; quite the opposite. In fact, I thought it was one of the most interesting developments during the Trinidad & Tobago game. He was often the first—and sometimes only—player speaking to the referee at critical moments. I saw him on a few occasions give instructions to other players and can't recall anyone doing so to him. And there's no real counter-argument to Pulisic adopting a leadership role aside from citing his age, although he exhibits none of the traditional characteristics of youth. For me, his postgame remark was just another facet of this development. Just because he is now a leader doesn't mean he is the only leader. There is still plenty of space for Bradley's experience, for example. But it's about time someone changed the tone heading into the Azteca match.

LDP: I just keep thinking about Clint Dempsey's reaction to being subbed out. You could even argue that earlier in the game Pulisic poached one of Dempsey's goals—all while Dempsey was on the verge of breaking Landon Donovan's all-time scoring record. The former captain (at an old-man 34) had to claw his way back after receiving a diagnosis of an irregular heartbeat, and for him to get subbed off by Bruce Arena in the 61st minute? Well you can see that it didn't go over well. You can imagine how Dempsey felt about Pulisic's post-game comments.

AG: Dempsey was never going to go quietly into that good night.

LDP: Don't Tread on Dempsey.