Christian Pulisic: U.S. not focused in World Cup qualifying loss to Trinidad & Tobago

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Christian Pulisic has put part of the United States' failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup down to a lack of focus and said that chemistry wasn't the team's biggest problem.

The 19-year-old U.S. international is in the Los Angeles area with his club side, Borussia Dortmund, ahead of Tuesday's friendly with LAFC. Pulisic will then join up with the U.S. men's national team for a few days prior to a Memorial Day friendly against Bolivia.

If Pulisic sees the field for the U.S., which seems likely, it will mark his first international appearance since the U.S.'s defeat to Trinidad & Tobago in the final round of World Cup qualifying last October. In that game, the U.S. needed a draw to qualify but instead lost 2-1.

Pulisic stated that the defeat doesn't occupy his thoughts as much as it did in the immediate aftermath, but the precise causes remain tough to pin down.

"There could be a lot of small pieces. It's hard to say exactly," said Pulisic in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC. "I think we put ourselves in a good spot and we made a mistake in the final game. That's how it went. We weren't focused. We weren't ready to come out and finish the job. That's really all there was."

Former manager Bruce Arena indicated after the defeat that the U.S. team didn't have great chemistry, with U.S. defender Geoff Cameron's attitude during the final two qualifying matches highlighted as one example.

Pulisic didn't believe that to be the case, saying: "I wouldn't say [chemistry] that was the biggest problem. Chemistry issues, I was fine with Geoff. He was a good mentor of mine actually, he taught me a lot of things. It's hard to say exactly what went wrong."

Even as the memory of that disappointment fades, the experience still serves as motivation for Pulisic. The midfielder will see a few of his Dortmund teammates play in the World Cup, with Germany's Marco Reus and Poland's Lukasz Piszczek among them.

"It's my biggest dream as a soccer player, I always wanted to play in the World Cup," Pulisic said during an earlier roundtable with reporters. "You can imagine how I feel about that."

Pulisic endured a rollercoaster campaign at club level with Dortmund as well, though he was enough of a presence to make 42 league and cup appearances. He scored five goals in all competitions but that was the same number as the previous season despite logging more minutes.

"There were a lot of ups and downs this season for sure," he told ESPN FC. "It gave me a lot of time to look back and learn. Of course in professional sports, things can happen, we had some coaching changes, that's how it goes. But in the end, the team came together and we reached our goal of making the Champions League."

Pulisic has continued to push himself to improve and feels he still has a ways to go on the attacking side of the game.

"I'm trying to become just more clinical in every situation, whether it's the final pass, the final shot or whatever it is. I still have a long way to go with that. I took a step in the right direction with that, but I definitely want to improve in [that]."

Opponents, especially those in CONCACAF have taken to utilizing a lot of physical contact on Pulisic, but he feels he's coping well in the face of such tactics.

"I like to think of myself as a tough kid. It's not too much for me, or too much for my body or anything," he said. "As long as I continue to take care of myself, stay healthy, it's not really a problem for me. It's something I'm used to."

The last 18 months have seen Pulisic become the face of the U.S. team, which seems an immense burden for a teenager, even one as talented as Pulisic.

"It's a lot sometimes, they like to put this label on you," he said. "I'm just trying to live in the moment and do the best I can for myself and for my teammates, and that's all I can really focus on."