Everything US Men's National Team and Borussia Dortmund wünderkid Christian Pulisic says and does is dissected, flipped, refracted, and triangulated by American soccer fans. And after the USMNT failed to qualify for Russia 2018, perhaps even more so.
Who can really blame the American public? With the old guard of Bradley, Dempsey, and very-possibly Jozy Altidore on their way out for this next World Cup cycle, and with four years on their hands, people are looking to the future. The problem is that the future is only 19 years old.
In an interview with ESPN published today, the young player used his platform to criticize the current state of youth development in the U.S., contrasting it to his own experience,
"I would say the youth systems in Germany have impressed me the most and how they grow their youth players into full professionals," he said, adding that the U.S. "pay for play" system that relies on considerable financial contributions from parents "could be one of our problems" that stop the country from reaching its potential.
He then added,
"I think what I learned and how I learned from going through when you're 17 until you're 19 and fighting everyday with other players—you're fighting for a pro contract, really—is something we definitely can learn from. It's a system that I'd never really experienced in the U.S. I would have never got something like this and I think this is the biggest reason why I've grown so much as a player."
You know things are pretty bad when your best player says one of his biggest reasons for success was that he wasn't poisoned by his own country's failed youth development system.
This isn't Pulisic's first time criticizing the youth system. In a Players Tribune piece he published shortly after the USMNT failed to qualify in November, he insinuated that too many good young players get "star" treatment in the U.S. youth system. He then went on to criticize MLS—which has a bad reputation as a retirement league—for not taking enough chances on young players for play time.
But what's noteworthy in his ESPN interview is his criticism of the pay-for-play system. Most people in the soccer world would say that the pay-for-play is a US Soccer ploy to furnish their coffers. For example: Baron Trump was on the DC United U-12 team, and it's uncertain if it's because he was really good or not (that stat line, though). What is known is that up until the U-12s, young players don't often play to win and can buy their access to the country's best coaches. Not to mention that US Soccer has only one full-time men's scout.
For anyone in the running for the current, highly-contested February US Soccer Federation presidential elections, maybe they should heed the advice of a player who has seen development from both sides of the pond—despite his age. In fact, maybe his age—and proximity to kids currently in the youth system—gives him all the more expertise.
But then again, Pulisic also mentioned in the interview that he's getting a bit too much attention,
"I would say that the expectations some Americans put on me is too much," he said. "But I don't take it that way. I know no one means harm to me or wants to put too much pressure on me. It's kind of what they've done or do in the past. A lot of countries do."
It's tough being the best of the worst.