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Hershey's Pulisic is jazzed to be playing Copa soccer in Philadelphia

Christian Pulisic has been lauded for playing well beyond his years, a 17-year-old participating for the U.S. men's national soccer team in the Copa America tournament.

Christian Pulisic has been lauded for playing well beyond his years, a 17-year-old participating for the U.S. men's national soccer team in the Copa America tournament.

His teammates and coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, praise his skill, mental toughness and poise. Yet he still showed his youthful enthusiasm before Thursday's training session at the University of Pennsylvania's Rhodes Field.

The U.S. team is gearing up for Saturday's Group A game against Paraguay at Lincoln Financial Field. A win would advance the U.S. team to the knockout round, and a tie would almost certainly do the same.

What made Pulisic seem more like a teenager on Thursday than the poised midfielder who has impressed his much older teammates was a return to his home state and Philadelphia. He is from Hershey, and he showed unabashed emotion for being in Philly and having so many friends and family ready to attend Saturday's game.

"It is awesome to be in my home state, and I am really excited to be home," he said. "I am close to my family and friends, and it is really amazing to be here with the national team."

Pulisic has appeared in one of the two Copa America games, having entered last Friday's opening match in the 66th minute with the U.S. team down, 2-0, in a defeat by the same score to Colombia. He didn't see action in Tuesday's 4-0 win over Costa Rica.

Even though he displayed enthusiasm at coming to Pennsylvania on Thursday, he has shown a different persona on the field so far.

Instead of the kid happy to be hanging around some teammates who are twice his age, Pulisic has acted and played as if he belongs. He scored his first goal for the U.S. team in the last warm-up match before Copa America, a 4-0 win over Bolivia on May 28 in Kansas City.

Of course, playing for Germany's Borussia Dortmund, a power in the Bundesliga, would toughen up anybody, even somebody who doesn't turn 18 until September.

"He is already on the big stage, so this is not difficult for him," said midfielder Jermaine Jones, 34, one of the U.S. players twice as old as Pulisic.

Playing against such high-powered competition in Germany has accelerated his growth.

"I learned a lot in the Bundesliga, playing with these very physical players, playing quickly. Just the speed of the play there helped me earn a spot with the national team," Pulisic said.

Klinsmann said that Pulisic's insatiable desire to learn is as impressive as his play on the pitch.

"We have seen a young talent coming through that is very confident for his age, that is obviously highly talented. But he is a sponge," Klinsmann said.

Klinsmann has told Pulisic to ask as many questions as possible to him and his teammates, and the youngster has taken up the coach on the offer.

And then there is the mental toughness that Klinsmann likes as well.

"He is fearless. He takes people on," Klinsmann said. "He is always there to surprise the opponent, but he is in an early learning curve, and we look after him and make sure we keep him protected."

Pulisic admitted there were a few jitters when he entered the field for last week's game against Colombia, but his mental toughness got him through.

"Even though I may not show nerves or anything, as soon as you get on the field, they kind of go away," he said. "But I just try to show no fear when I go out on the field every time."

Notes. A U.S. Soccer official said late Thursday afternoon that 45,000 tickets had been sold for Saturday's game. . . . Even though a tie would almost certainly earn the U.S. team a berth in the knockout round, Klinsmann says his team won't play it safe. "We go for the win," Klinsmann said. . . . Paraguay has tied Costa Rica, 0-0, and lost to Colombia, 2-1.