Is it still too early to have the conversation? You know, the one where we ask if Christian Pulisic is the greatest soccer talent ever produced in America?
Seriously though, is it?
Fans and pundits alike have been measured in their willingness to discuss where Christian Pulisic will ultimately stand in the United States Men’s Soccer pantheon when his career is complete. And with good reason: The Hershey, Pennsylvania-born attacker is still just eighteen years old.
But don’t think they haven’t been tempted. Since coming on as an 81st minute sub for Graham Zusi in a March 2016 World Cup Qualifying match against Guatemala, Pulisic was the lone source of excitement within American soccer circles that were mostly devoid of anything bordering on “optimism” over the waning months of Jürgen Klinsmann’s USMNT tenure.
Pulisic’s international career has been nothing short of captivating thus far. With 7 goals in only 16 total appearances, Pulisic gives the Americans a much-needed goal-scoring option for a team that has struggled to find much production outside of its strikers recently. He has shown a great deal of utility as well – both in his skillset and ability to line-up in multiple positions.
Pulisic exhibits great vision and decision-making qualities in the central midfield where he is very strong on the ball and a capable tackler tracking back in defense. At this stage of his career, however, the eighteen-year-old has primarily been used as a winger for both club and country, combining athleticism and speed with exceptional on-ball technical skill to become a massive attacking threat down the sidelines.
And speaking of club, today marked the first matchday in the 2017-18 German Bundisliga, which saw Pulisic’s Borussia Dortmund side traveling to take on VfL Wolfsburg. Pulisic featured frequently for Dortmund over the course of last season, and after signing a new long-term deal with the club through 2020, many expected him to grow into a focal point and target player for the world-class German club – but perhaps just not this quickly. Pulisic got off to a fast start this summer against rivals Bayern Munich in the German Super Cup when he turned an early defensive gaffe into a 1-0 Dortmund lead (video below – Dortmund would ultimately lose the match in penalty kicks).
And with 20-year-old star French striker Ousmane Dembélé being placed under suspension by the club for skipping training amidst speculation of a potential Barcelona transfer, Dortmund announced this morning that it would be Pulisic lining up as a forward alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and 2014 German World Cup hero Mario Götze in the first match of the new campaign. In addition to Dembélé, Dortmund was also going into the first matchday without two injured stars: attacking midfielder Marco Reus and forward André Schürrle. Today was an opportunity for Pulisic to put an early stamp on Dortmund’s 2017-18 campaign with three world-class attacking options unavailable in Wolfsburg, and he certainly did not disappoint.
In the 22nd minute, Aubameyang got on the end of a Dortmund clearance and held up play near the top of the Wolfsburg penalty area long enough for Götze to arrive underneath in central support. Götze took the pass and immediately played Pulisic in to his right, where the American international fired home a tremendous far-post finish for Dortmund’s first goal of the new campaign.
Pulisic also featured in Dortmund’s third goal toward the end of the second half when he split two Wolfsburg defenders to play an inch-perfect ball across the penalty area to a streaking Aubameyang who met it sliding at the back post. Like with his earlier goal, the skill involved in playing the perfectly weighted ball just beyond the reach of Aubameyang’s mark was world class. Fox’s Bundesliga announcers wasted no time in showering Pulisic with praise, calling him one of the league’s best talents.
That’s right: The year is 2017 and an American is being called one of the best players on one of the best teams in one of the world’s best leagues in arguably the world’s best soccer country – and they aren’t even wrong.
If you think Pulisic’s star is bright for the USMNT, you should see what Borussia Dortmund supporters think of the kid. I was admittedly skeptical at first, wondering if Pulisic resonated with club supporters in Germany the way he does here. I considered the possibility that American news outlets were oversaturating us with Pulisic coverage to the point where we were ourselves overrating him. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Dortmund Twittersphere is bursting with supporters celebrating Pulisic during their matches. Captain America memes get posted in droves. Fans make pleas to the club to do everything it can to lock the boy up for his career. And who can blame them? Pulisic was professional and respectful to the club last year when his contract was up, never allowing the frequent speculation over a possible move to the Premier League to gain traction. Just look at how Dortmund supporters have quickly turned against Ousmane Dembélé this summer. Even Mario Götze has failed to fully win back the supporters’ favor since returning to his boyhood club last year (Götze spent nearly 13 years between his youth and senior career at Dortmund before opting for a move to rival Bayern Munich). So if loyalty is currency in Dortmund, Pulisic might as well be Scrooge McDuck.
This German club campaign will figure prominently into how Christian Pulisic is perceived going forward. If given the opportunity to be a permanent fixture in the XI this season – and I fully expect him to be – there is no question that the American teenager has the pedigree to impact Dortmund’s title chances. And if he manages to do just that? Americans may have to reopen that conversation.