You would imagine being a soccer fan in the United States is a labour of love. Largely ignored by the mainstream sports media, to truly love the game ahead of American football, basketball or baseball must invite ridicule.
Relatively-speaking, a niche breed, denied the ability to engage in proper sports chat beyond the internet, as NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and college sports dominate the discourse. After all, why would you need to watch anything else? The USA is a country where the very best athletes in the world take to courts, fields and rinks each week.
And while soccer fans are a proud bunch who look after their own, for all the dedication afforded to the sport, a longing gaze must still be fixed on Europe and South America and the individuals who emerge and become superstars.
That’s not to say the country hasn’t produced some fine players, and their consistency in World Cups this century is testament to that, but they have all, to varying degrees, been of a certain ilk – honest, hard-working, dedicated.
Strong values in a team-mate but none that alone can make up a truly unique individual talent or a superstar they can call their own, alongside Tom Brady, LeBron James or Aaron Judge.
Christian Pulisic is different. Borussia Dortmund coach Peter Bosz has only been working with the teenager for four months, yet believes he deserves to win FIFA’s Golden Boy award, ahead of Kylian Mbappe and former team-mate Ousmane Dembele. There is significant bias, but the Dutchman, in speaking about his prodigy, reveals a continual theme: “He has great mentality, which is important.”
As Pennsylvania Classics director, the youth academy where Pulisic spent his formative years, told Sports Illustrated last year: “The thing that we always felt was going to help him through was he seemed to be very grounded and focused about his training and his goals.”
All this fits nicely into the lineage of Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Eric Wynalda: diligent and dedicated professionals; talented to varying degrees but players whose attitude and teamwork ultimately rise above everything else.
Pulisic is all of this… and a whole lot more. He is industrious, combative and committed, whether in possession or when losing the ball, but even at his age – having turned 19 Sunday – there is some serious stardust in those boots.
In Saturday’s 6-1 hammering of Borussia Monchengladbach he collected the ball just inside the opposition half and glided past (or maybe more accurately, through) six players with a combination of blistering acceleration and, dare you say, Lionel Messi-like control; shifting from right foot to left foot, and back again.
The concept of wingers was thought to be a dying art at the turn of the decade. Dribbling, too, a fading concept in such a rigid tactical landscape, but whether it be FIFA’s commitment to altering laws on what constitutes a fair tackle, improvements in the quality of pitches or the influence of Messi and Ronaldo, Pulisic is among a few unique talents carrying the torch.
As expected with his style of play, age and lack of experience, there is significant risk with the reward.
Pulisic is fourth across Europe’s top-five leagues, in terms of attempted dribbles, with 33 but also co-leads the standings across the continent with failed attempts (18).
Refinement is obviously and inevitably required, but that will come over time from within, as he is a unique talent who already, between the ages of 17-18, has matured at an impressive rate.
Dembele’s departure to Barcelona has quickened his full integration into the first team – he has started five of six Bundesliga games, played 90 minutes against Tottenham and is a guaranteed starter for BVB’s match tonight against Real Madrid – but evidence suggests, Michael Zorc could have another protracted transfer battle on his hands next summer, especially if he has a fruitful World Cup.
Because Pulisic presents more than just an excellent footballer. A world-class individual from the planet’s biggest sporting nation, in the world’s most-popular sport equals serious bang for your buck.
Unsurprisingly, Nike have him tied down to an endorsement deal until 2022. But for any club looking to crack the emerging American market – and factor in the 2026 World Cup potentially being held in the USA, Canada and Mexico – Pulisic is the golden ticket.
All this is a lot to take for a teenager still in the very early years of his career but he seems to be taking it in his (exceptionally fast) stride.
If he hasn’t already, Pulisic will come to represent a numbers of things for Stateside soccer fans – hope, excitement, pride. But most of all, a justification for their peculiar passion – a superstar they can call their own.