Christian Pulisic kicked off the New Year by shedding intriguing insight into how he fell in love with the sport that took him from a small Pennsylvanian town to the very top of the game with Borussia Dortmund.
Before Pulisic became the world-class winger that this summer exits the Bundesliga, there was Pulisic the teen prodigy breaking out in Dortmund’s first-team. Proceeding that was Pulisic the babyface American schoolboy who’d headed to Europe with dreams of becoming the very player he is today. But what about those precocious early days in Hershey when boy met ball?
“For me, my earliest soccer memory will definitely be loving the game in the basement of my old Hershey house, my first house,” said Pulisic on his dad’s Soccer Unplugged with Mark Pulisic podcast.
“I think I’d put anyone in goal, I’d put my dad in goal and there was this bar that went across and held up pictures. That was my crossbar and there was this little fireplace I would shoot at and just drill shots at him.
“I loved it. I always just wanted to shoot, I’d be goalie sometimes, I just wanted to play soccer. I’m sure my dad remembers that.” The result? We’ll let dad answer that. “I took a few shots to the head, Chris, believe that. And he broke a few picture frames.”
Clearly an enormous influence on Pulisic first taking up the game and then pursuing it with greater purpose, dad Mark was his first coach and original mentor.
A former forward himself, Pulisic senior moved with his son to Dortmund back in 2015 to take up a coaching role with BVB’s academy. As well as continuing the pair’s working relationship, it also afforded the USA youngster some much needed home comforts that could keep a little bit of those early days in Hershey alive in Germany.
“I remember at the young ages it wasn’t really as much with the team, it was more me playing on my own at the house, in my backyard,” added Christian of his early footballing development.
“As you got older you obviously have more practices throughout the week. For me, I was just always getting touches on the ball because I just loved it and I had a ball around me at all times.
“My dad was either kicking the ball with me or the academy days when I was ten to fourteen we trained two times a week. Looking back on it, it’s crazy not training every day. I was just so excited for those Tuesday and Thursday practices. That’s what really drove me.”
And those early flirtations with football certainly lit a fire in young Pulisic, driving him on to bigger and better things, with his dad - who now works as assistant manager with USLC side Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in the US - a constant in fueling the passion burning in his young son.
“My dad was my coach a lot of my career so if I don’t bring him up, I’ll probably get in a lot of trouble. He was a great coach for me growing up. He taught me a lot of things and obviously he knows so much about the game and that’s a big reason I am where I am. But at a certain stage he realised it was time for me to move on and I had a lot of great coaches.
“My dad didn’t want me to feel the pressure of soccer all the time. We threw the baseball around, we’d shoot hoops. We’d do other things and probably one of the best things about my mom is that she doesn’t want to talk about soccer, we talk about other things. My dad was great because he was in the game for a long time and went through a lot of the things I’ve gone through.”
Pulisic would move to Germany as a 15-year-old, a journey that would eventually lead him to breaking numerous records and captaining his national team. It has been a remarkable climb to the top for the American winger, who has helped inspire a new generation of young soccer lovers back in his homeland dreaming of following in his footsteps.
The 20-year-old’s advice for those youngsters and their parents?
“Make sure you’re enjoying the game because if you’re not and you constantly feel pressured, your parents are pressuring you, there’s so much going on in your life, it’s so hard to train and get better. You have to have a very open mind and be willing to put in the work as well. Another great piece of advice I don’t think kids get enough is watch the game, watch how the best players do it. Go watch a soccer game, watch the best teams in the world and the best players in the world. I think that’s how you get better at anything.
“As for parents, there’s no perfect formula to making your kid the best soccer player they can be. You want to support your kid, don’t overdo it, let them play the game and let them enjoy it. For coaches, I think it’s the same.”