The land of the free and the home of Christian Pulisic
Once considered a necropolis of young players who failed to live up to their potential, the American soccer landscape is undergoing a tectonic shift.
The USA has never produced a more gifted footballer. At the age of seven, Pulisic was already dipping his twinkle toes in European waters at English minnows Brackley Town. By 16, buoyed by a career-shaping stint with the Pennsylvania Classics developmental academy, he had joined Dortmund.
The Hershey-born midfielder had not long lifted Bundesliga youth titles at Under-17 and U-19 level, when he was invited by then Dortmund head coach Thomas Tuchel to train with the first team during the 2015/16 winter break. It has been a case of onwards and upwards ever since.
“I’ve been fortunate that I have good athletic ability, just in general,” Pulisic told The Guardian. “Quick, strong, able to bounce off players, trying to be strong in winning tackles and annoying to play against, pretty much. I’ve also been lucky, and I’m just thankful that I’ve been able to stay healthy and the coaches have felt they can trust me to play, whether it’s been off the bench or starting.”
Watch: Pulisic and Dortmund’s top Under-21 stars
Pulisic has certainly earned that trust. Opening his senior club account at the seventh attempt against Hamburg on 17 April 2016, he became the second youngest non-German to score in the Bundesliga, aged 17 years, six months and 30 days. Six days later, he went into the history books again as the youngest ever player to have netted two goals in the German top tier. And so it began.
The youngest U.S. player to appear in and start a FIFA World Cup qualifying match; the youngest player to score and grab a brace for the USMNT; the youngest American to register a goal and assist in the UEFA Champions League; and the youngest American to lift a major European trophy. Records and Pulisic go hand in hand.
“I would never have expected what he’s done and accomplished so far,” Pulisic’s father, Mark, explained. “To be quite honest, as a parent I wish it hasn’t gone as fast, because we worry about him missing a lot of his teenage childhood, but I can’t have a say in that now. We’re just trying to guide him and help him deal with all that’s happening.”
Watch: Pulisic on his Dortmund breakthrough
The Pulisic family philosophy has served the Dortmund starlet undeniably well. At 18, he has already turned out 56 times in all competitions in a BVB shirt, registering eight goals and 13 assists. He also has seven star-spangled strikes in 16 international outings to his name. Remarkably, the new 2017/18 campaign represents the start of only his second full season since turning professional in January 2016.
“It’s been amazing,” Pulisic recalled in conversation with CNN Sport anchor Patrick Snell. “Everything has happened so fast. Of course I’m still so young but I wouldn’t change a thing. It really is a dream come true to me. People ask me what it’s like and I just can’t describe it because it’s everything I ever wanted. Just being able to play for both club and country is just the biggest honor in the world. I’m just really excited moving forward.”
Pulisic has every reason to be. The 2017 DFB Cup winner’s six Bundesliga assists and total dribble attempts were second only to Ousmane Dembele at BVB last term, but his recent performances – most notably a hat-trick of assists in the pre-season friendly win over AC Milan and the opening goal in the Supercup defeat to Bayern Munich – suggest he is poised to blow those numbers out of the water in 2017/18.
Watch: Pulisic inspires Dortmund to Milan win
There is also the little matter of the FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia. Pulisic has had a direct hand in the USMNT’s last eight goals in CONCACAF qualifying (four goals, four assists), star turns which have put Bruce Arena’s side firmly in contention to reach the finals with four matches left to play. Needless to say, the World Cup is a stage befitting one of the Bundesliga’s brightest lights.
“We have a good chance to qualify for the World Cup, but for now my focus is on the new season with Dortmund,” Pulisic said in a recent interview with SPORT BILD. “I’ve heard all the rumours, but I’m not thinking about leaving. I only signed a new contract, valid until 2020, at the turn of the year, and I’m very happy here. I don’t mind where I play. If [Dortmund head coach] Peter Bosz wants to use me out wide as he has been doing, that’s great. My next objective is to be consistent.”
It takes a special player to achieve what Pulisic has accomplished at 18, but clearly he is no ordinary talent. After 18 months in the career fast lane for club and country, the Dortmund and USA kingpin stands on the precipice of global stardom. Unlike so many young American soccer hopefuls before him, however, he will make the leap. The pinnacle of world football has his name on it.
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