Jurgen Klinsmann hails 'promising' Christian Pulisic, won't write off U23s
United States national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann has hailed midfielder Christian Pulisic as a "very promising talent" and has cautioned naysayers to not give up on the U.S. youth program just yet, despite the under-23 team's recent loss to Colombia in an Olympic qualifying playoff.
Pulisic, 17, made his U.S. debut in the U.S.'s 4-0 defeat of Guatemala on Tuesday in a World Cup qualifier. The Borussia Dortmund playmaker is now the youngest American to play in a Cup qualifier. Pulisic has made six appearances since January for his club team and is the eighth-youngest player to appear in Germany's top flight.
Speaking exclusively to ESPN FC, Klinsmann praised Pulisic's promise, as well as the grooming he is getting at the German club.
"He's a very promising talent, there is no doubt about it. Otherwise, he wouldn't have made that appearance in the senior national team program," Klinsmann said Friday. "We won't overshoot him with expectations because he's in an environment where they [Dortmund] keep him grounded, where they keep him developing.
"They keep balancing him between the first team and the under-19 team, like what happened two or three weeks ago: He played for the under-19 team in a big game against Schalke in their derby. So this is good to know because now that there is this hype a little bit around him, it's not going to happen in Dortmund because are loaded with big players and they can keep him grounded and keep him covered."
The future didn't seem as bright for the United States' Under-23 team in its two-legged loss to Colombia last week. In the games, the Americans were largely dominated by the superior South Americans.
Promising players such as Matt Miazga, Jordan Morris and Ethan Horvath took part in the disappointing showing. While admitting that their elimination was not welcome, Klinsmann was quick to not count this generation out just yet.
"Definitely it's a disappointment -- there's no doubt about it," he said. "They hit the wall against a Colombian team that simply was better. It's better. It's a higher quality than our team right now in that age group, and we have to accept that.
"Many people say it's a huge setback. Many people say it's another lost generation. And I would argue no because I think, if you look at players who came through the under-23 team, there's a lot of talent there, but it's not ready yet.
"And I'm not worried that we are going to lose these kids because I think they will fight their way through in their club teams, and a national team program is always a reflection of what happens in their club environment. Once they break through in their club environment, they're going to be picked up again and will become part of the senior national team."
Klinsmann also discussed the roller-coaster ride the senior team experienced in last week's World Cup qualifiers. After falling 2-0 to Guatemala in Guatemala City, Klinsmann's men bounced back with a dominant 4-0 defeat of the Guatemalans in Columbus, Ohio.
The former Germany manager said qualifying "is a very difficult task," but "as long as you stay on track, which we do, it's all right."
He said he was "thrilled" with forward Clint Dempsey's performance in the return match against Guatemala. The Seattle Sounders man scored a goal and was the top performer in Columbus.
Despite Dempsey's advancing age and Klinsmann's admission that Bobby Wood is being groomed as a replacement, Klinsmann promised, "If Clint is able to keep the competition away from him, scoring goals, then he's in. There's no doubt about it."
Of the recent wage discrimination lawsuit brought to the U.S. Soccer Federation by the women's national team, Klinsmann said, "Obviously, I have the highest respect for our women's program. I have a very good relationship with the entire staff of the women's side. We all exchange notes or meet or have talks.
"But obviously, I'm not an expert in collective bargaining agreements. I was involved on the men's side of the collective bargaining agreement for the last one, though I'm not involved in the women's side at all, so you catch me on the wrong foot then."