Few U.S. Men’s National Team players have garnered as much interest as Christian Pulisic. Since breaking onto the MNT scene in March 2016, the young midfielder has become one of the most important players for both the USA and Borussia Dortmund. So how did he arrive at this point?
Here are five things you should know about the 19-year-old midfielder:
Christian Pulisic was born Sept. 18, 1998, in Hershey, Pa., with soccer already running through his veins. His parents Mark and Kelley met while playing collegiate soccer at George Mason University before his dad went on to have an impressive eight-year career as a goal poacher with the indoor Harrisburg Heat. During much of that time, Mark also served as the men’s and women’s coach at Lebanon Valley College through 2005.
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In 2005, the family moved to England for a year when Christian’s mother received a Fulbright scholarship to work on a teaching exchange. Living eight miles north of Oxford in the tiny village of Tackley, seven-year-old Pulisic suited up for the youth side of sixth-tier Brackley Town -- an experience that his father credits with setting him on his current path.
“It was only one year, but if you look back it was what propelled him into playing the game,” Mark Pulisic told The Guardian in 2016. “Christian went to play in tournaments and really fell in love, became obsessed with the sport. He played every day at school and after school, going out into the playground and kicking the ball around with kids of any age.”
In 2006 the family returned to the U.S. as Mark took on the head coaching job for the Detroit Ignition of the Major Indoor Soccer League. After he guided the club to the MISL championship series in 2007, the family returned to the Hershey area where Pulisic began playing for U.S. Soccer Development Academy side PA Classics in 2008.
It wasn’t long before he showed up on U.S. Soccer’s radar.
Current U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director and U-20 MNT head coach Tab Ramos recalled the first time he saw Pulisic play during a Development Academy event in Washington, D.C.
“He completely looked like someone's little brother that just jumped on the field, and I was waiting for someone to get him out,” Ramos told Sports Illustrated. “Then I realized, 'Wow, not only does he look like he doesn't belong physically, but he's running the show. This kid is running the show.' He clearly was younger, smaller and didn't look like he belonged in the game until he was around the ball, until you watched the game for about five minutes and you realized that everybody was playing through him. And the pace of the game was completely run by him.”
Pulisic made his way into the U.S. Youth National Team funnel in 2012, when he began playing for the U-15 Boy’s National Team as a 13-year-old. The Hershey, Pa., native scored 21 goals in 28 international appearances the next two years before moving into U.S. Soccer’s U-17 MNT Residency Program in 2013.
That December, Pulisic and the U-17 MNT dazzled their way to the 2013 Nike International Friendlies championship, where he stood out in the side’s 4-1 thumping of Brazil in the tournament finale. Though his decision to sign with Borussia Dortmund in February 2015 limited his contributions the rest of the year, Pulisic went on to tally 28 goals in 34 international matches and captained the U.S. side at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile, where he added a goal and assist.
A Move to Germany
Even prior to playing at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup, Pulisic had been on the radar of many European clubs. Mark took his son to visit different sides during the summer to experience those environments and eventually the time came for him to make the jump abroad.
“Once, as parents, we felt he was ready and it was something he wanted, we went to visit [Borussia] Dortmund,” Mark Pulisic said. “All of us decided we felt it was the right move and the club was great with us, so we took the plunge. You have to go with your gut feeling.”
Still just 16 years old, Christian moved to Dortmund in February 2015 and officially signed with the club that summer after securing a Croatian passport that allowed for him to count as a domestic European player. After graduating from the U-17 side that July, Pulisic recorded four goals and three assists in seven matches with the U-19 team and was rewarded with an invitation to first-team training camp in Dubai during the Bundesliga’s winter break in January 2016.
Pulisic has rarely played for the club’s youth sides since that trip. He went on to make his first team debut on Jan. 30 vs. Ingolstadt and scored two goals in a week’s time that April in matching 3-0 wins vs. Hamburg and Stuttgart.
Competing in his first full Bundesliga season, Pulisic made 43 appearances across all competitions in 2016-17, tallying five goals and nine assists along the way. Even when he wasn't scoring, Pulisic proved vital for BVB down the stretch, earning game-winning penalty kicks in back-to-back matches -- a 4-3 win against Werder Bremen on May 20 and a 2-1 victory against Eintracht Frankfurt in the DFB Pokal Final a week later. With that result, Pulisic joined former MNT captain Thomas Dooley as just the second U.S. player to win the prestigious German Cup competition.
Receiving the Call
Coming on the heels of his strong spring run for Dortmund, Pulisic was called to U.S. camp for the MNT’s important World Cup Qualifying match against Guatemala on March 29, 2016. With the U.S. leading 3-0, Pulisic replaced Graham Zusi in the 81st minute, becoming the youngest U.S. player to appear in a World Cup Qualifying match at 17 years, 193 days – one of many things Pulisic did faster than anyone.
Named as part of the USA’s Copa America Centenario squad, Pulisic scored his first international goal in a warm-up friendly when he put the exclamation point on the MNT’s 4-0 friendly win against Bolivia. Putting in a star shift in the USA’s last two Semifinal Round World Cup Qualifiers against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago, Pulisic ran away with U.S. Soccer’s Young Male Player of the Year Award in 2016.
Pulisic picked up where he left off this past March, running rampant in midfield as he picked up a goal and two assists in the USA’s -- in total playing a part in five goals -- in the USA's 6-0 World Cup Qualifying rout of Honduras. Four days later, he assisted on Clint Dempsey’s goal as the U.S. earned a hard-fought point on the road in Panama.
In June, he tallied the equalizer in a 1-1 draw against Venezuela before scoring both goals in the USA's crucial 2-0 World Cup Qualifying victory against Trinidad & Tobago. Pulisic finished 2017 with six goals and four assists across nine matches in 2017 and in one way or another, was involved in 13 of the 17 goals that were scored by the MNT in the matches he appeared in. Finishing 2017 with nine goals in 20 career international matches, Pulisic is trending ahead of nearly all of the MNT's top goal scorers at that period in their own careers.
Pulisic capped his remarkable year when he was overwhelmingly voted as 2017 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year.
The Youngest to…
Pulisic’s meteoric rise has included a plethora of “youngest player” records at both the club and international level. We’ve counted a number of impressive feats he’s achieved for both club and country in the past year, and there’s certainly still more to come.