USMNT's Copa America exit raises major questions. But is Pulisic the one to answer them? (2024)

Good enough to mix it with the very best and win trophies? Or not quite as good as some around them fervently claim?

Questions surround the USMNT after their embarrassing Copa America group-stage exit, but should they apply to their star man, too?

Christian Pulisic is the team’s best player, no doubt. So often he is the difference maker, the cut above. He arrived at this home tournament riding the high of his strongest individual season at one of Europe’s top clubs — scoring 15 goals and providing 11 assists across all competitions with AC Milan. His switch from Chelsea in a deal worth up to €22million ($23.5m, £18.6m at current rates) last summer proved to be one of the continent’s best high-profile transfers.


But in the main audition for the national team to prove they can achieve their strategic aims at the World Cup they will co-host in two years, both Pulisic and the wider American program gave an inconclusive response.

At least for the 25-year-old, though, it was not because he is over-hyped. In the end, Monday’s 1-0 defeat by Uruguay did not suggest he lacks the quality of players on the Uruguay team, stacked full of his peers at Europe’s top sides. Instead, it underlines a problem he faces continually: Pulisic cannot keep doing it alone.

GO DEEPERUSMNT 0-1 Uruguay: Takeaways from the U.S. Copa America failure

He played his part in the U.S. team’s group-stage opener against Bolivia with that wonderful third-minute goal. Then he turned provider, assisting Folarin Balogun for the second.

It was not Pulisic’s fault that his team-mates subsequently spurned so many chances to build their goal differential in Dallas. And in their second match against Panama, he created three chances, more than any other American player, in a 2-1 defeat.

Yet, in the wake of a collective disappointment, Pulisic is often the first under scrutiny. That’s what happens when you’re the best on the roster. Just ask Jude Bellingham, questioned after a lukewarm opening run at the European Championship until he conjured that exceptional moment to help England squeeze into the quarter-finals. Or at the other end of the age scale, there is Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed a penalty in extra time but then stepped up to convert Portugal’s first spot kick in their shootout win over Slovenia.

Ultimately, against Uruguay in Kansas City, Pulisic could not deliver the difference. Shifted to the right of the attack in place of the suspended Tim Weah after starting the first two fixtures on the left, there were a few characteristic early moments of class that boded well. Uruguay’s players were getting tight to him, but instead of moving inside as he did so often in the previous game, he adapted, using his pace to zip outside of his marker and threaten.


Then, circ*mstances out of U.S. control damaged them and him. Pulisic’s link-up with Balogun — in exploiting the Monaco striker’s pace as he had previously — was over when he was forced off injured in the first half.

Then there was the officiating. Oh, the officiating. Referee Kevin Ortega appeared so far out of his depth that urgent questions must be asked of organizing body CONMEBOL.

USMNT's Copa America exit raises major questions. But is Pulisic the one to answer them? (3)

Pulisic shows his anger at Kevin Ortega in Monday’s second half (John Dorton/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

There was the booking for Tyler Adams for a foul when he was the victim, not the offender. Worse still was Ortega allowing play to continue as he also booked Chris Richards, offering Uruguay the chance to attack when the U.S. players had stopped. They nearly scored but for Tim Ream’s last-ditch intervention.

Compilation of some of the most controversial refereeing moments from USA’s match vs Uruguay ⬇️

— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 2, 2024

Finally, there was the paper-thin VAR call over Mathias Olivera’s goal. Was it offside? It looked so at first. But, in the end, the officials perhaps called that one right. Just.

It did not stop a furious Pulisic at the final whistle seemingly gesturing for Ortega to join the throng of celebrating Uruguayan players. In turn, the 32-year-old official refused to shake the U.S. captain’s hand when he offered it moments later.

“Honestly, I saw things that I’ve never seen before right in front of my eyes today,” said a still-flabbergasted Pulisic afterwards. “I truly can’t believe… It’s not why we lost. We’re not out of this tournament because of officiating but really, I’ve seen things I really don’t know what I’m looking at. I don’t know what they’re calling. He gives no explanation. He’s doing things I can’t accept.”

Ortega was not the only inept referee the U.S. will rue crossing paths with in this tournament.

Against Panama, the Salvadoran Ivan Barton declined to book Cesar Blackman for a clear and damaging foul on goalkeeper Matt Turner, who later seemed impeded by a leg injury suffered in the collision. Following the foul, Turner was uncharacteristically slow to move towards that same player’s equalizing goal. Only Barton will know too why he decided to add just five minutes in the second half with so many halts in play.


To echo the captain, though, genuine hard-luck stories from officials were not the only reason for this setback. The truth is that the U.S. lacks enough strength in depth behind its starting XI — and even then, too few players are consistently capable of Pulisic’s elite level. Can they develop before the home-soil World Cup in two years?

USMNT's Copa America exit raises major questions. But is Pulisic the one to answer them? (4)

(Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Pulisic, so often tasked with answering questions on the wider aspects of this program, tried to remain optimistic as he made his way to the team coach following a long wait in the random doping test room.

“We’ve got time to improve before then (the World Cup in 2026),” he said. “I think everyone has to take a step back and we need to find our identity again and find the motivation. I don’t think it’s a lack of motivation though; I want it so bad and everyone does.

“I’m not exactly sure what’s missing but I think we are on a good path and we can expect good things around that time.”

There have to be improvements. If not, the USMNT will surely fail to exploit the biggest-ever opportunity to grow the sport in North America. Other talented players billed as capable of becoming big-game changers, such as Gio Reyna, need to start doing that consistently when it matters.

GO DEEPERUSMNT's elimination at Copa America awakens echoes of previous humiliations

Asked about claims of overall progress since the last World Cup, when the U.S. at least progressed beyond the group stage, Pulisic struggled to hide his frustration.

“It’s not for me to say,” he added. “I’m doing my best always to improve myself, as everyone in the team is.

“We didn’t get the results we needed in this tournament and that hurts, but that doesn’t mean we’re a bad team or we haven’t improved.”

Olivera y un gol fundamental para Uruguay 🙌

— CONMEBOL Copa América™️ (@CopaAmerica) July 2, 2024

Finally, there was the fate of the manager. Does he still back Gregg Berhalter to lead them forward?

Pulsiic sighed deeply. “Yeah. Look, we have a good relationship with him,” he said. “Whatever the next step looks like, it’s not my job to decide.”

If he sounded mentally fatigued at this point, it was perhaps the night’s exertions taking their toll. After the chaos of that contest, he was being asked the big-picture questions once again.

Pulisic gave the answers, as he usually does. But it’s time he got a little more help.

GO DEEPERUSMNT had questions before its Copa America exit. Now those get even louder

(Top photo: John Dorton/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

USMNT's Copa America exit raises major questions. But is Pulisic the one to answer them? (7)USMNT's Copa America exit raises major questions. But is Pulisic the one to answer them? (8)

Greg O'Keeffe is a senior writer for The Athletic covering US soccer players in the UK & Europe.Previously he spent a decade at the Liverpool Echo covering news and features before an eight-year stint as the paper's Everton correspondent; giving readers the inside track on Goodison Park, a remit he later reprised at The Athletic.He has also worked as a news and sport journalist for the BBC and hosts a podcast in his spare time.

USMNT's Copa America exit raises major questions. But is Pulisic the one to answer them? (2024)


Is the US out of Copa America 2024? ›

Soccer — or football — fans, are you ready for the Copa America 2024 quarterfinals? The Copa America action continues tonight, July 5 with Canada vs. Venezuela, kicking off at 8 p.m. ET. The USA may be out of the tournament, but they're still hosting the tournament, which will continue through July 14.

Is USMNT out of Copa America? ›

The United States men's national team bowed out of Copa América on home soil after just three games, following a 1-0 defeat to Uruguay. It flunked the only major test this still fairly young group of players will get to prepare for the 2026 World Cup, which will once again be hosted at home.

Why are the USA in Copa America? ›

The United States are not members of the South American soccer confederation CONMEBOL, but because CONMEBOL only has ten member associations, guest nations have regularly been invited since 1993. With five participations, the U.S. are the second-most regular guest behind Mexico (eleven participations).

Does ESPN have Copa America? ›

The 2024 Copa América in the United States will see the best countries from North and South America be packed with drama and excitement. ESPN is there for it all!

Why is Ecuador not hosting Copa America 2024? ›

The 2024 Copa América had been expected to be hosted by Ecuador due to CONMEBOL's host rotation order. However, CONMEBOL president Alejandro Domínguez said Ecuador had been nominated but not yet chosen to organize the edition. In November 2022, the country declined to host the tournament.

Who is favored in the Copa America 2024? ›

2024 Copa America Odds & Betting Favorites: Uruguay Beats Brazil, Argentina Still Favored. The 2024 Copa America is now into the single-elimination quarterfinals, where defending champion Argentina remains favored (albeit with injury concerns) while Uruguay is one win away from a matchup with its geographic neighbors.

Who was eliminated from Copa America 2024? ›

Uruguay survived a late red card as they won a penalty shootout to dump an underwhelming Brazil out of the 2024 Copa America.

Is the US eliminated from Copa? ›

US eliminated from Copa America with 1-0 loss to Uruguay, increasing pressure to fire Berhalter. KANSAS CITY, Mo.

Is Copa America just South America? ›

It is the oldest still-running continental football competition, as well as the third most watched in the world. The competition determines the champions of South America. Since the 1990s, teams from North America and Asia have also been invited to compete.

Why did Mexico stop playing Copa America? ›

The reasons are innumerable. Apart from in their victory over Jamaica, they were comfortably outplayed at this year's Copa. Against Ecuador on Sunday, and in the previous game against Venezuela, the team lacked any fluency going forward. And when things broke down, they lacked the options – or ideas – to adapt.

Why did Brazil lose Copa America? ›

Nández was sent off as the game neared its conclusion following a foul on Rodrygo. The Uruguay player caught Brazil's tricky winger with a studs up tackle on the ankle and was dismissed following a VAR check. With 10 men, Uruguay held on to take the game the distance and penalties loomed.

Will Messi play in Copa America 2024? ›

This Copa America will be Messi's last (it won't be played again until 2028). As it's two years until the next World Cup, it could yet be his last international tournament, period.

Where is Copa America 2026? ›

The tournament will take place from June 11 to July 19, 2026. It will be jointly hosted by 16 cities in three North American countries: Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The tournament will be the first hosted by three nations and the first North American World Cup since 1994. Argentina is the defending champion.

Is Copa America Field smaller? ›

The fields also are slightly smaller than the international standard, 100 by 64 meters (109 by 70 yards) instead of 105 by 68 meters (115 by 74 yards).

Why are Copa America tickets so expensive? ›

Those weren't inflated resale market tickets; they were the going rate for primary market tickets from the organizers. Conmebol, using dynamic ticket pricing, thought people would pay that much for a group-stage game of a continental tournament in which the Americans, even as hosts, were technically guests.

Who is the best player in Copa America 2024? ›

In the 2024 Copa America, the continued renaissance of Colombia playmaker James Rodríguez qualifies as a wonder. His one-goal, two assist performance on Saturday catapulted his country past Panama 5-0 and into the Copa América semifinals.

Is Ecuador out of the Copa America? ›

Ecuador reached the last eight for the third time in the last four editions but were knocked out by the defending champions in a penalty shootout after the match ended 1-1.

Are Brazil still in Copa America? ›

Brazil are eliminated from the tournament.

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