The United States Men’s National Team has a Superstar Problem

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Every sportscaster who’s paid even two cents has worn footprints into his soapbox talking about what an embarrassment, what a travesty, what a joke, what a, what a, what an aberration it is that the US Men’s National team didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

The unfortunate fact is that none of these passionate soapbox thumpers have addressed a real issue at hand, one that has plagued USMNT soccer since the 90s and is threatening to repeat itself all over again: the superstar problem.

Who is the earliest US Men’s National team superstar you can remember? Mine is Cobi Jones. You know the problem with Cobi Jones? As talented as he was, and as much as Major League Soccer needed him in the 90s, US Men’s national team trotted him out onto the field until he was 34 years old.

Cobi Jones ended up being the most capped player in USMNT history.

And did his stats justify his appearance in the line-up? Not at all. Jones only netted a total of 7 goals, and 11 assists for the US Men’s National team from 1997-2004. Six out of those eight years Jones didn’t score at all, 5 out of the 8 he had no assists.

Cobi Jones was one of the first bonafide soccer superstars for the USA, and because the marketing had been spent, and he was a face, hairstyle, play style that the casual American fan could recognize, the US Men’s team kept him on as long as they could. He was the best player American audiences knew about, and they expected to see him, despite the fact that later in his career his contributions to the team’s success were paltry.

And this problem has persisted through the decades for the Men’s national team. Three years ago it was a ‘big controversy’ that Landon Donovan was left off the World Cup squad by then manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Donovan was 32 years old, and had only produced 7 goals for the US in 24 appearances from 2010-2012.

Soccer: Friendly-USA vs Mexico
Donovan is currently vying to become president of US Soccer, for better or worse.

Despite Donovan’s strong 2013 year, it was clear that his time playing for the USMNT was over. Still, because of the superstar machine that was built around Landon Donovan, Klinsmann had to publicly address the media circus surrounding his being left off the roster rather than focus of having the players prepared.

And now? The US Men’s team is in perfect position to do it again to Christian Pulisic. Nearly every commentator took the time to say that Pulisic looked like the only player playing to win against Trinidad and Tobago. After his goal within 2 minutes of the second half the whole U.S. audience breathed a collective sigh of relief: The superstar came to play, he’s not going to let tiny Trinidad and Tobago take this game.

Pulisic is quickly becoming the figure-head of the USMNT for his skills and passionate displays.

But Christian Pulisic is only nineteen.

And while he has potential, like Jones did, like Donovan did, to be one of the greatest who ever puts on the national team kit, if the US Men’s Team coaches and fans resign themselves to thinking Pulisic is their superstar, and Pulisic is all the team needs for the next 10 years the final results will not change.

Pulisic’s career will end with the United States National team in the same place as when he started, which would be the real embarrassment, because we’ve seen this before, and as an audience, organization, and team we should have known better.




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  1. Interesting perspective. But has anyone said that Pulisic “is all the USMNT needs”? I haven’t heard that from anyone.

    And comparing a 32 year old Donovan and a 34 year old Jones and how they were treated by USMNT with a 19 year old makes no sense what so ever. Not to mention the fact that with out Pulisic in this qualifying campaign the USMNT would’ve been eliminated a lot sooner.


    1. Hi Eric, thanks for reading!

      I think your last sentence pretty clearly identifies the problem I’m talking about in this piece. USMNT is already relying on Pulisic for the entirety of its chances to make it to the world stage and he’s only 19. So even if no one is saying out loud ‘he’s all we need’, they sure are acting like it. If the squad doesn’t build around him now, it’s likely he’s treated exactly like Donovan and Jones in 10-12 years.

      USMNT can’t keep missing these generational talents by putting everything on a singular talent rather than building youth potential around them!


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