USMNT World Cup Daily, Day 3
Christian Pulisic speaks, Matt Turner tells his injury story and Gio Reyna blanches at the U.S.'s 10 pm local kickoff times
DOHA, Qatar — My Uber driver from Pakistan was fired up as he dropped me off at our destination. I had just informed him that we were outside the training site for the U.S. World Cup team, and he kept saying the same thing over and over.
“You mean Pulisic is right in there?!?” he said, pointing at the modest Al Gharafa Stadium. “Pulisic is here?”
It hit me that the U.S. has probably never had a soccer player until Christian Pulisic who would get a Pakistani driver in Qatar excited over his presence being near. Maybe Tim Howard during his Manchester United days? Maybe?
Pulisic, 24, has won a Champions League with Chelsea, and he is hardly the only important player on this U.S. team, the youngest in the World Cup. But he is the biggest U.S. male star in the global game. And when he speaks to the media, as he did today, five days before the U.S. World Cup opener against Wales, he gets treated like it, with plenty of questions about playing in his first World Cup.
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“I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot,” Pulisic said on Wednesday. “I’ve done a lot of things I want to do, but the World Cup is something on top of all of that. When I was a kid in Pennsylvania growing up, five to 10 years old, that’s all I thought about was playing for the U.S. team in a World Cup. That’s just been a dream of mine my whole life, so I’m sure getting into that moment is going to be special.”
Pulisic has grown more comfortable talking about his emotions and how he manages them, revealing that he has been helped by therapy sessions at times, and his new Volkswagen ad campaign features a scene of him on a therapist’s couch. He has been through a lot with the national team, including the trauma of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Now’s he’s finally at the sport’s showpiece event. And he doesn’t hesitate to say that he’s feeling things. “A bit of all those emotions,” Pulisic said. “That’s how it goes. Luckily, I've had some experiences and played in some big games, so I feel like I know I can overcome those feelings and bring out hopefully my best work out on the field. So that’s the goal.”
“All those emotions and stuff that you know you’re not ready for, I guess it always hits you. It hits you and you feel it. You feel the big moments coming every day laying in bed at night. When it gets a day closer, you feel it a little bit more. So that’s how it goes.”
Pulisic seemed like he’s in a good headspace about this tournament, though. He said he feels like he has been in good form lately for Chelsea whenever he does get on the field. He talked about getting a kick out of watching Leeds United’s roller-coaster games with featuring his U.S. teammates Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson. Pulisic clearly enjoys joining up with the national team with a group of players he has known (in some cases) since they were 14 years old.
No U.S. player spends more time getting to know the other players on the team than goalkeeper Matt Turner. And Turner likes what he’s hearing from Pulisic this week.
“We sat near each other on the flight, and we were just talking a little bit,” Turner said today. “I like to get to know people, what makes them tick. And typically when we’ve been traveling to and from national team camps, we’ve been either next to each other or just chit-chatting. And he’s just excited to be here. He felt the pain and the heartbreak of the last one very personally, I know. So for him to be here now, he’s excited to go and express himself and be on the world stage.”
The game on Monday against Wales provides Pulisic’s first opportunity. And he agreed today with Aaronson that the 5-3-2 formation that Wales sets up in is a bit like the one used by Morocco when the U.S. got a 3-0 friendly win against it in June. In that game, Pulisic had a ridiculous touch and combined with Aaronson for one of the prettiest goals the U.S. has scored this year.
“I think it could look a bit similar [to Morocco] in this first game against Wales,” Pulisic said. “I remember us finding space and the ways that you can work around a formation like that. And that’s what we've been working on all week and preparing as best we can for that. So we’ll take the positives from that game and try to bring that into this one.”
For Turner’s part, he’s just relieved that his recent injury scare with Arsenal, a strained groin muscle, didn’t prevent him from making the World Cup team—which he’s expected to start for during this tournament after Zack Steffen was left off the final roster.
“I’m a hundred percent,” Turner said today. “No limitations. Smashing balls again. All good.”
He added it was the first muscle injury of his pro career. “Not ideal timing, but it happened in training and I just knew that I could feel that something wasn’t right,” he said. “And we had training the morning of the game at PSV. I tried to get through training, but the game script that was ahead, I just knew that if I continued pushing it it might have got worse and ended up being something a lot more serious.”
“And that was the advice I received from the medical team there. And so I listened. So at the end, after the scan and everything, it confirmed that I had a slight strain and that if I had played it would have ended up being something that might jeopardize [the World Cup]. So I’m very grateful that the medical team was looking out for me.”
After a hard training session in the infernal heat, Turner did get a leg cramp during our roundtable interview, but we let him drink some water and he got through it.
The U.S. team is probably the healthiest it has been in two years, and it’s the perfect time for that to happen. Gio Reyna, who just turned 20, might have had the hardest time with injuries of any U.S. player over the past year. But he’s here, and he’s ready to go, he said today.
“I always knew I was going to be ready for this moment,” Reyna said. “I think it was always in the back of my head to make sure I was ready for the World Cup. But I’m feeling good, feeling strong. It’s obviously still managing a few things. It’s going to take time, but I’m ready to help the team here.”
Reyna is U.S. soccer royalty, the son of Claudio Reyna (who played in three World Cups) and Danielle Reyna (who played for the USWNT). It gave you some perspective on things when Gio was asked about his father’s World Cup Best XI performance at the 2002 World Cup.
“That was when they lost to Germany [in the quarterfinals], right?” he said. “I was in my mom’s belly at the time. That’s what my mom tells me. But the Germany game, I definitely watched highlights of that many times. It’s the game that stands out to me the most, and it’s probably the tournament and the game that [Claudio] talks about the most.”
Gio said his family gets into Doha on Saturday, two days before USA-Wales. It’s a close-knit family that I wrote about a few years ago, before Claudio became known as “Gio Reyna’s dad.”
“They’ll probably be crying when I’m first playing in the first game,” Gio said. “But I’m honestly just excited to see them. I haven’t seen them in a while. It’s been a few months.”
Another intriguing topic that came up on Wednesday was the daily U.S. calendar during this World Cup. All three U.S. group games will kick off at 10 pm local time in the last window of those matchdays. That’s unusually late in this sport.
“I’ve never played a game that late in my life, ever,” Reyna sad. “But Champions League is at nine, so it’s not too far off. But to have three consecutive games at 10 pm is something completely different than I think anyone’s done here. So to prepare you kind of just shift everything back a little bit later. You wake up a little bit later, you go to sleep obviously later, and then you make all the meals a little bit later. It’s a little bit strange, but all the other teams that we’re playing against have the same schedule on that day.”
As for trying to get to sleep after the game? That could be difficult. I know how worked up I am in the hours after a game as a journalist, and the players have it even more.
“Oh god,” Reyna said. “I mean, I have trouble falling asleep after 3:30 [pm] games, so for a 10 pm game I can’t even imagine how long it’s going to take me to fall asleep. But I don’t know. Hopefully there are a few things that I can take that could help me fall asleep.”
“10 [pm kickoffs] are a bit crazy,” Pulisic added. “But I think as the game comes around, we’ll slowly just delay our times and move back our times. Treat it as if the game was an evening game. So I think maybe start our day a bit later. You know, we’re not going to be waking up at seven and waiting around all day. I think that’s sort of the plan. It’s weird, it’s strange, but I think it’s good for us as well as far as the temperature will be nice.”
How are things going on the ground for me here? Just fine over the last 24 hours. I found an app, Talabat, that lets you order food and grocery delivery (even though they delivered two orders of what I had asked for). I’m still the only person in our four-bedroom townhouse until the first of my three housemates, Guillem Balague, arrives on Thursday.
Some cool stuff from today: The USMNT met with members and families of the U.S. military and embassy here who got to see all of training:
Have a good day!
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Grant, you should check to see if Talabat delivers pants 😂
I totally agree with the comments, Grant. These stories are why we subscribe. We can all watch the games, and find clips of interviews, analysis, etc. It’s the personal stuff that coolest. Bora? Wow. Keep up the great work!