Christian Pulisic: Chelsea's American soccer sensation, made in the Bundesliga
A trailblazer for Americans in the Bundesliga, Christian Pulisic is now showcasing what he learned in Germany with Chelsea. bundesliga.com looks back on how Borussia Dortmund helped the USMNT star became an ace attacker.
The son of two keen football players, Pulisic was always likely to continue the family tradition. The 24-year-old learned the basics of the game in his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania, and when his family moved to England for a year he played for Brackley Town at the age of seven.
“A lot of people don’t realise but it really brought on my passion for the game,” Pulisic told The Daily Mail. “I just started to love it so much and I said: ‘Wow. I’m pretty good! I think I can do something with this game.’”
Longer spells back home with Michigan Rush and PA Classics grew Pulisic’s love for the sport, but it was in Germany where he became a world-class talent. The U.S. teenager made the giant leap to Europe in February 2015, and an EU passport obtained thanks to a Croatian grandfather smoothed his passage to Dortmund.
Watch: Christian Pulisic: Made in the Bundesliga
“As a result of my dual citizenship, I’ve been able to play in Europe, training at the Dortmund academy, since I was 16,” Pulisic explained in a piece for The Players’ Tribune in November 2017.
“Without it, I would have had to wait until I was 18. And for a soccer player, those years are everything. From a developmental perspective, it’s almost like this sweet spot, where a player’s growth and skill sort of intersect, in just the right way – where a player can make their biggest leap in development by far.”
It didn’t take long for Pulisic’s obvious talent to shine through at youth level in Germany, and by January 2016 Dortmund had the wiry winger primed for a Bundesliga debut. Then 17, he came on as a substitute in a 2-0 win over Ingolstadt, and soon followed up with another second-half cameo in a UEFA Europa League match against Porto.
The teen’s rise through the ranks was proving as rapid as his footwork, and he started his first Bundesliga game in February before being thrown in at the deep end for the Revierderby against Schalke on 10 April of that year. Pulisic lasted 73 minutes in the 2-2 draw, earning plenty of plaudits from then Dortmund manager - and now his boss at Chelsea - Thomas Tuchel.
“He’s a teenager in his first year of professional football,” Tuchel told the club’s website. “His first two games in the starting eleven were in Leverkusen and here today in Schalke – not the easiest of tasks. It shows our huge appreciation that we see him as a full-time player on our team.”
Tuchel said that the American had “looked really good” in his brief appearances up to that point, and he would soon repay his coach’s faith further. A week after the Schalke game, Pulisic got his first Bundesliga goal – netting the opener in a 3-0 home win over Hamburg. Aged 17 years and 212 days, he was the youngest foreign-born goalscorer in the league’s history.
Another effort against VfB Stuttgart the following week made him the youngest player ever to record two Bundesliga goals, and Pulisic closed out the 2015/16 campaign by breaking another record at international level. Having captained the U.S. U17s at the 2015 World Cup, his strike in the senior team’s 4-0 win over Bolivia in May 2016 made him the USMNT’s youngest goalscorer in the modern era.
The following season, the records kept tumbling. In September 2016 Pulisic became the youngest person to score in for the U.S. in a FIFA World Cup qualifying game, and the youngest to net a brace for his country to boot.
That same month, he got his first taste of the UEFA Champions League – becoming both the youngest American and youngest Dortmund player to take part in Europe’s top club competition. He looked the part as a starter on the right wing too, picking up an assist in a 6-0 hammering of Legia Warsaw in Poland. Two weeks later, he came on as a substitute to set up the equaliser in a 2-2 draw with European champions Real Madrid.
In between those two European ties, Pulisic had a weekend to remember. On the eve of his 18th birthday, he opened his account for the new season and also got two assists in a 6-0 win over Darmstadt.
Watch: Pulisic's top 3 Bundesliga goals
It came as no surprise, then, that in December Dortmund’s rising star was named U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year for 2016. He would also finish his first full campaign in the Bundesliga with a new-and-improved contract as well as an impressive tally of three goals and eight assists in 29 appearances.
In addition, Pulisic ended that season with some silverware. In the DFB Cup final in May 2017, he came on at half-time to replace the injured Marco Reus, and won what proved the deciding penalty in Dortmund’s 2-1 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt. Two months previously the then 18-year-old had claimed another record, netting against Benfica in the Champions League last 16 to become BVB’s youngest ever goalscorer in that competition.
The goals kept coming at the start of the following season – Pulisic got one in a DFL Supercup success against Bayern Munich in August 2017 before netting again in Bundesliga wins over Hamburg and Wolfsburg.
A memorable late winner followed against Hoffenheim in December 2017, the same month he was named U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of Year for 2017. He had six goals and four assists for his country in the calendar year, and won the prize by scooping up a whopping 94 percent of the votes. No teenager had ever received the accolade before.
“It’s an amazing award – something I’m very proud of,” Pulisic said. “It’s been a crazy journey.”
That rollercoaster ride would continue in 2018/19, with Dortmund’s spectacular season almost culminating in them being crowned German champions.
Pulisic marked his 20th birthday by netting on his 100th appearance for the club, making the crucial breakthrough in a 1-0 win over Club Brugge in the Champions League. A succession of injury issues curbed his influence during his final year in Germany, but he still finished with four goals and four assists from 20 league games as well as finding the net twice in the DFB Cup.
“I would not be where I am today without the club and their belief in giving young players a chance,” Pulisic wrote in an open letter to fans once his summer 2019 move to Chelsea had been confirmed in January. “It’s been an honour and a dream to pull on the black-and-yellow in front of the Südtribüne.”
The American then signed off in style by getting on the scoresheet in his final home game for the club, a 3-2 victory over Fortuna Düsseldorf on the penultimate day of the season.
“It’s the best stadium I’ve ever played in,” Pulisic had told the Ruhr Nachrichten ahead of his last appearance at Signal Iduna Park. “I’m going to miss that atmosphere… most of all, though, I’ll miss the people in Dortmund. It was the best five years of my life."
Watch: Pulisic's emotional farewell to Dortmund fans at Signal Iduna Park
That chapter in the American’s story would close on another positive note, as he made a goal for the 2018/19 Bundesliga runners-up in a 2-0 road win at Borussia Mönchengladbach.
In all competitions, Pulisic registered 19 goals and 26 assists in 127 games for Die Schwarzgelben. As well as packing a lifetime of memorable moments into his teenage years, however, he had also offered hope to a fresh generation of American players. Tyler Adams, Matthew Hoppe, Weston McKennie, Gio Reyna and Josh Sargent are just some of the names to follow the path he had blazed in the Bundesliga, while Alphonso Davies from neighbouring Canada is another.
"That was the most difficult moment of my life," Pulisic told Ruhr Nachrichten when looking back on his arrival at Dortmund. “I had to leave my family, my friends. I couldn’t speak the language at all. All that I brought with me to Germany was a dream.”
Pulisic is living proof, then, that the Bundesliga is a place where dreams can – and do – come true.
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