Christian Pulisic: United States’ New King
In Hershey, Pennsylvania, on September 18, 1998, Christian Mate Pulisic was born to parents Mark and Kelley. Both had played soccer in college, and Mark had even had a professional indoor soccer career, so it was clear what sport Pulisic would love. After moving to England at age seven, Pulisic played for the local Brackley Town youth team, which is likely the mentoring that would lead him to become such a dynamic player. Eventually, after moving two more times, Pulisic landed back in Hershey and played with the local U.S. development academy, as well as the nearby professional club team Harrisburg City Islanders.
While Pulisic grew up playing and went to high school with kids his age, that all changed very quickly. In February of 2015 Pulisic was signed by well known, and common second place finisher, Borussia Dortmund of the Bundesliga in Germany. Pulisic started on the under-17 squad, and by the summer of that year had been promoted to the under-19 squad. After a half season there, Pulisic was promoted to the first team, playing with world-class players such as Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, because of his 10 goals and eight assists in just 15 appearances. Pulisic first played in two friendlies while Europe was on winter break, and soon made his Bundesliga debut January 30 against FC Ingolstadt, coming on in the second half. Less than a month later, Pulisic made his Europa League debut February 18 against FC Porto, a game Dortmund won 2-0. Pulisic then made his first Bundesliga start three days later against Bayer Leverkusen, being substituted out in the second half. Pulisic scored his first Bundesliga goal April 17, 2016, against Hamburger SV, making him the youngest non-German player to ever score a goal in the third most competitive league in the world, and the fourth-youngest player to ever score a goal in the Bundesliga at only 17 years old. Pulisic scored again four days later against VfB Stuttgart, making him the youngest player in history to score two goals in the Bundesliga in one season. This past season (the 2016/17 season), Pulisic became the youngest player to start in a Champions League game for Dortmund, and also became the youngest player to score for Dortmund in the Champions League with a goal against Benfica in a 6-0 win.
Internationally, Pulisic has been playing with the United State’s national team since he was 15, captaining the under-17 team at the under-17 World Cup in Chile. Pulisic was called up to the first team March 27 of last year, becoming the youngest player to ever play in a World Cup qualifier for the United States. Pulisic is also the youngest player to ever score the U.S., scoring a late goal in a 4-0 win in a friendly against Bolivia. Six months later, Pulisic went on to score two goals and assist another in a 6-0 thrashing of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, becoming the youngest American to score a goal in a World Cup Qualifier for the U.S., and youngest American to score a brace (two goals in one game) in U.S. history. In the following game, Pulisic became the youngest player to start a World Cup Qualifier for the United States.
With the background out of the way, it’s time to discuss whether Pulisic will be able to lead the United States to a finish better than the first round of knockout games at the World Cup, or if the young star will suffer the same fate of Messi and Ronaldo. While both are without question, the two best players in recent history, their international careers are rather sparse, with just one trophy between the two of them (Ronaldo, 2016 Euro Cup). While Messi and Ronaldo are able to lead their club teams to victory, with only two of the last six Champions League finals not featuring either team, getting it done on the international level has never really happened, and it’s mainly an issue of the players surrounding both stars. Just take a look at Germany, who won the previous World Cup and lost in the semifinals of the most recent Euro Cup. Manager Joachim Low has so many stars he doesn’t know what to do with them all, a problem every other country, besides maybe Spain, envies. Players like Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Andre Schurrle, Manuel Neuer, Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Jerome Boateng fill just a few spots on a star-studded lineup, meaning instant success for the German squad. And, while older players like Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, and Philipp Lahm get ready to leave or have already left the international stage, younger players such as Emre Can get ready to fill their shoes, meaning Germany shows no signs of slowing down. The diversity that Germany possesses, and that Spain once had, is the key to success on the international stage and is not easy to acquire. While club teams can go out and buy whichever players they desire, within reason, of course, to create a deep and successful lineup, the same obviously cannot be said for international teams. Homegrown talent is the most important factor, and unless you’re Germany and you steal Polish and Ghanaian players (see Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose, and Jerome Boateng), each team is limited to what their country can produce.
Which brings us to the United States. While fans know and love players such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard, there has never been a collection of players as dangerous as Germany. However, barring any unforeseen injuries, the 2018 World Cup might be the chance the United States needs. With young players such as Deandre Yedlin, Darlington Nagbe, and of course Pulisic, complementing older players like Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, and Geoff Cameron, this United States team very well could come out on top of their group, gaining a favorable matchup in the first knockout game. While it is dangerous to gamble on the success of young players on a big stage, as this will be the first World Cup for some of this team, the numbers for Pulisic and others do suggest that they will do just fine on the biggest stage in sports. And, with the starlet being only 18 years old and already a soccer icon in the United States and the world, there could be a bit of a dynasty falling into place, with young Christian Pulisic as its king.