United States international midfielder Brenden Aaronson said the return of Chelsea star Christian Pulisic gives the U.S. a “confidence boost” ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier (watch or stream LIVE on ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) against rivals Mexico.
Pulisic missed out on the previous round of qualifiers due to an ankle injury he sustained against Honduras back in September. He only recently returned to the field for Chelsea, featuring as a substitute in both the 1-0 win against Malmo FF in the Champions League and the 1-1 draw last weekend against Burnley.
U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter has made it clear he doesn’t expect Pulisic to log heavy minutes against Mexico, and then Jamaica four days later. Prior to the Burnley match, he spoke of progressing Pulisic “in a safe way” and that “we’re also not willing to risk anything.”
But Pulisic was among the 10 U.S. players that took part in Monday’s training session and those in attendance spoke of how important his return to the side is.
“With Christian being back, I mean, for the whole team, we know how much quality has,” said Aaronson. “He’s been with the national team for a long time, doing his thing, and he was here through the last qualifying and he did a fantastic job then. He means so much to our team, so it’s awesome having him back. It’s like another confidence boost just having me here.”
Fulham and U.S. defender Antonee Robinson added, “Christian coming back in, it’s massive for the group just having him around. In general, like, just being a good lad, being around him, and being a leader off the field. And we know when he gets on the field, whether he starts or has to come off the bench, then he’s a player we can rely on to put his all into the team and create chances and help us if we need him to get the win.”
Nonetheless, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel stressed caution over Pulisic’s minutes while on international duty, saying that the player “still feels some pain.”
“I hope that they don’t overuse him and are responsible enough,” Tuchel previously told reporters. “Christian still feels some pain. It is a matter of pain management. It’s not a matter of a re-injury or being still injured. It’s just still painful. He has tried hard.
“Hopefully everybody, including himself, is responsible and doesn’t get carried away by emotions and by helping his country to win a super important match. Hopefully it all goes well and the minutes will elevate him and he will come back stronger.”
The U.S. has had the upper hand in recent encounters with El Tri, prevailing with their full side in the CONCACAF Nations League final in June, and then with largely a reserve side in August’s Gold Cup final. But Aaronson knows that the U.S. can’t rely too heavily on previous results.
“We got the best of them the two times before, but this is something totally different,” he said. “It’s World Cup qualifying and it’s a different kind of beast, so we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”