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Christian Pulisic 'really excited' to link-up with Weston McKennie for USMNT

PHILADELPHIA -- U.S. international midfielder Christian Pulisic said he is looking forward to sharing the field with longtime friend Weston McKennie.

The two players are adversaries at club level, with Pulisic excelling for Borussia Dortmund while McKennie has broken through with BVB's arch rival Schalke 04. But the two have crossed paths for years at youth level, and the pair are expected to lead the U.S. team in the future as it looks to rebound from last year's World Cup qualifying failure. It is likely that they will start in a full international together for the first time in Monday's friendly against Bolivia.

"I'm really excited. I know him well," said Pulisic about McKennie. "I've played with him since U14 national team camp. To play with him now on the full national team is definitely an exciting time. I'm definitely looking forward to it."

Pulisic will lead a youthful squad against Bolivia, one whose average age is just 22, and he said he's pleased to see the infusion of new blood up close.

"I'm really excited to see some new faces, some younger faces," he said. "We continue to develop younger players, and it's really important for our team moving forward. But me being a younger guy, it's definitely cool having younger players around, guys that I can talk to. I have more experience, and even though I'm still pretty young I can talk to these guys because we're going through similar things. It's great to have these guys around."

A native of nearby Hershey, Pennsylvania, Pulisic will be playing before numerous friends and family members on Monday. The last time Pulisic was in Philadelphia was during the 2016 Copa America Centenario, when the U.S. defeated Paraguay 2-1. Pulisic didn't get on the field that day, but he did take time to reflect on what has transpired in the interim.

"I've developed so much as a player since then," he said. "I've had so many more experiences over in Europe and with the national team, slowly getting more and more minutes. I've just experienced things and learning more about myself. I feel I'm a much more developed and confident player now."

Pulisic is coming off a campaign that saw him log over 3,000 minutes with Dortmund in all competitions, and he admitted it has taken a toll.

"I feel like it's the end of my season," he said. "My legs are tired, but it's normal. I'm doing everything I can to keep myself fresh and I'll definitely be ready for tomorrow."

The World Cup is set to start next month, but Pulisic says his focus is already looking ahead. "I won't be playing in the World Cup," he said. "I'm sad obviously, we'd like to do it, but now we're just working on developing this team and being ready to qualify for the next one."

Earlier this week Pulisic received a surprise gift from NBA star LeBron James, receiving a pair of game worn shoes. Pulisic has made no secret about his admiration for the Cleveland Cavaliers forward, and appreciated the gesture.

"I'm not wearing them," Pulisic joked. "I'll keep them in my room. It's cool to me; he's a big inspiration of mine, so obviously I was pretty excited.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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