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Christian Pulisic: USMNT, Chelsea spotlight can be 'up and down'

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United States forward Christian Pulisic said he has struggled with an up-and-down year at Chelsea but looks forward to helping the USMNT reach the World Cup.

In 2021, Pulisic won the Champions League with Chelsea in May and the CONCACAF Nations League with the U.S. in June. However, he was then sidelined for two months with an ankle injury suffered during a World Cup qualifying match against Honduras in September. He was out of action until Nov. 2 and has started just seven of Chelsea's last 11 Premier League matches as he battled for a starting spot.

"It's been up and down this [past] year, for sure,'' he said ahead of the United States' World Cup qualifier against El Salvador on Thursday night (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET; stream LIVE on ESPN2, ESPN+). "Not exactly where I want to be and how I want things to be right now. But, yeah, I'm just going to keep going.''

At Chelsea under manager Thomas Tuchel, Pulisic has also been shifted from his winger role to playing as a center-forward or as a wingback. He has scored just three times in Premier League action for Chelsea.

"It's tough,'' Pulisic said. "I haven't always been playing in the positions I want to play in. But I think it's a good quality to be versatile and be able to play in all kinds of positions and have different strengths on the pitch.

"So, yeah, I've learned a lot and I think I'm ready to hopefully be in a spot in the next couple of games that I'm more comfortable in.''

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Pulisic returned from the injury in November for the USMNT and scored the go-ahead goal on his first touch in a 2-0 win over Mexico. A month later, he won his third U.S. Player of the Year award, tied with Kasey Keller and Clint Dempsey for second behind Landon Donovan's four.

U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter lauded Pulisic's versatility and adaptability.

"I just love the fact that Christian is fighting, is fighting to be on the field," Berhalter said. "And whether he plays forward, his natural position is a winger or withdrawn attacking midfielder, or if he plays wing back, he'll do whatever it takes to be on the field. I think that's the mark of character.''

When asked about how he has maintained the pressure of being a prominent player for both his club and country, Pulisic said he tries to keep it in balance.

"There's two sides to me,'' Pulisic said. "There's the soccer side and then there's the person side. So the person side is even more important for me, and I'm doing all right in that sense. But, yeah, it's a lot sometimes.

"It's always when I come to the national team, it's 'How are things at Chelsea? How -- what's this, what's that?' And, yeah, it's tough. It's tough. It's definitely played a lot on me, and mentally it's been difficult at times. But I'm always very excited to come back with the national team and sort of step away and get to enjoy it.''

Regarding Thursday's game against El Salvador, Berhalter said he expects a tough rematch between two sides who opened up the qualifying campaign with a scoreless draw in September.

"They're going to be pressing really high, and we've got to move the ball quickly," he said of El Salvador. "They were the best pressing team in the first eight games.''

Next up will be a match Sunday at Canada and a Feb. 2 matchup against Honduras at St. Paul, Minnesota.

Through eight of 14 matches, the United States has 15 points, a point behind first-place Canada and a point ahead of Mexico and Panama. Three teams from CONCACAF will receive an automatic bid, while the fourth-place finisher in the region will play a one-off match against the winner of the Oceania Football Federation (likely New Zealand) in Qatar in June.

"We're in a good position,'' Pulisic said, "and by the end of this window, we could be in a great position.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report.