Christian Pulisic Holds Keys For USMNT Success At Gold Cup

After two recent friendly defeats, there are now more questions about Gregg Berhalter's USA side heading into the Gold Cup than there were a month ago. Injuries have robbed the manager of a couple of players in his squad, most notably Tyler Adams and John Brooks. Those two absences alone, though, don't account for worrying signs in the losses to Jamaica and Venezuela, games in which the U.S. failed to score a single goal.

Despite the concerns, the U.S. should make it out of their group at the Gold Cup without much issue. Berhalter's side opens up against Guyana, and Panama has the potential to test the limits of the U.S. side. And of course, the last time the U.S. faced off against Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean side knocked the U.S. out of qualifying for the World Cup.

But whose performances on the field will dictate success for the U.S. at the Concacaf tournament? The U.S. will have to get standout performances from all over the board to repeat as Gold Cup champions, but we take a look at who can or will contribute the most to another triumph for the USA.

Honorable Mention: Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore

Most of the old guard, players from the 2014 and 2018 World Cup cycles, have been phased out of the national team picture. Rightfully so of course, and that's without even taking into account the failure to make the World Cup in Russia.

The two most senior players who have retained a role in Berhalter's setup, though, have been lightning rods amongst U.S. fans over the past decade. They might not have as prominent roles as time passes in the 2022 World Cup cycle, or even at the Qatar tournament should the U.S. qualify. But in 2019, the Toronto FC pair remain two of the more important players for Gregg. 

Both are overcoming injuries but will likely be starters so long as they are fit for this tournament. As the only players with more than 50 caps in the squad (and by a long way, Bradley has 145 caps, Altidore 110), Berhalter will lean on the two not only for their ability but for their experience at the international level. 

Key Player: Christian Pulisic

This an obvious choice, but for good reason. The then-teenager did everything in his power back in 2017 to help the U.S. try to qualify for the World Cup, only for the team to come up short. Pulisic has mostly spent the past year and a half away from the national team, going through ebbs and flows with Borussia Dortmund. 

Pulisic seemed on the outs at Dortmund this past season, being usurped by English starlet Jadon Sancho. Pulisic agreed to a move in January to English side Chelsea, smashing the record for a transfer fee paid for an American player. The youngster finished the season with Dortmund though and even made his presence known late on in the campaign, as Dortmund finished second to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. 

In a tournament missing some of its luster due to the number of star players that are absent, Pulisic has a chance to stand out as the best player. It's a big ask, since Pulisic's previous time with the national team has seen him playing in a more secondary row. Now, he'll be the focal point for opponents to key in on.

And a question that still surrounds Pulisic is where Berhalter will use the 20-year-old. For club, Pulisic has been used as a winger. That's where he started his life with the U.S., but he has been shuttled back and forth with a more central role. Having not appeared in either of the pre-tournament friendlies, we can't be too sure where Pulisic will be played, but the general thinking is that the youngster might be deployed as the most attacking midfielder in a 4-3-3 look for the U.S.

The form of Berhalter's team should definitely give fans pause going into the Gold Cup. But at the same time, Mexico has been decimated by injuries and players not wanting to partake in the tournament. Jamaica and Canada and Costa Rica could cause an upset or two, but if the U.S. can retain their title, it will be in large part because of the influential play of Christian Pulisic.

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