Christian Pulisic: 10 things you might not know about Borussia Dortmund’s nascent USA star
At the tender age of 19, Borussia Dortmund and USA starlet Christian Pulisic has already gained a glittering reputation with a trophy cabinet on course to match. Now a DFB Cup winner with nearly 20 caps for his country, bundesliga.com celebrates the “American Messi”’s birthday with 10 things you might not have known about him…
Pulisic hails from Hershey, Pennsylvania, a town of less than 15,000 people that also gave the world Hershey’s chocolate, and his talent is proving every bit as sweet as the confectionery that put his humble hometown on the map. Pulisic opened the scoring against Bayern Munich in the Supercup in August, and a goal and an assist against Wolfsburg on the opening day saw the US starlet win bundesliga.com’s inaugural Man of the Matchday.
Watch: Pulisic’s star-turn on Matchday 1!
Pulisic’s parents Mark and Kelley both played collegiate soccer at George Mason University, with his father going on to play professional indoor soccer as a forward with the Harrisburg Heat in the 1990s. Cousin Will is a goalkeeper, meanwhile, who trained with BVB’s youth teams in 2016/17 before taking up his place at Duke University. Pulisic was never forced to play the game, though. “We almost pushed him in directions other than soccer,” father Mark told philly.com. “He wasn’t forced in any manner. I wanted to make sure he was making the decision. Things don’t work if you’re forcing training on kids.”
A member of Dortmund’s vaunted Hohenbuschei academy since the age of 16, Pulisic’s first steps in the game were actually taken in England… with Brackley Town, of National League North fame. Pulisic’s mother received a Fulbright scholarship to work just outside of Oxford on a teaching exchange in 2005. A short journey to Brackley later and a seven-year-old Pulisic was on the path to footballing superstardom. “A lot of people don’t realise but it really brought on my passion for the game,” he 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.’”
Christian Mate Pulisic, the brightest of US prospects, could so easily have been Kristijan Mate Pulišić playing for Croatia. Pulisic’s grandfather was born on the Croatian island of Olib, and when Pulisic Jr. first joined Die Schwarzgelben in 2015 he successfully applied for Croatian – and therefore EU – citizenship. Croatia tried to cap him, but 13 months later he became the youngest American – at the age of 17 years, six months and 12 days – to play in a FIFA World Cup qualifier, helping the USMNT to a 4-0 win over Guatemala in Columbus, Ohio.
That was far from being Pulisic’s last entry in the Guinness World Records. A month later he became the youngest foreign-born goalscorer in Bundesliga history in helping BVB to a 3-0 win over Wednesday’s opponents Hamburg. The next week he became the youngest player of any nationality to score twice in Germany’s top division in another 3-0 win, this time over VfB Stuttgart. Pulisic’s third cap with the USA brought with it a goal against Bolivia, and yet another record – the USMNT’s youngest ever scorer at 17 years, eight months and 12 days of age. Highlights since include becoming the youngest US player to appear, assist, and score in the UEFA Champions League, and May’s DFB Cup victory over Eintracht Frankfurt made Pulisic the youngest American ever to win a major European trophy…
Watch: Pulisic’s three Bundesliga goals from 2016/17!
Pulisic has already proven himself capable of rising to the biggest of occasions. Trailing Real Madrid 2-1 in last season’s Champions League group stage, he came off the bench to set up Andre Schürrle’s late equaliser, ultimately helping BVB top Group F ahead of the 12-time European champions. A goal and assist against Benfica – themselves two-time masters of Europe – also fired BVB into the quarter-finals. Closer to home, Pulisic earned the penalty that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang converted to lift the DFB Cup in May, paving the way for that goal against Bayern in the Supercup. Pulisic’s three goals in CONCACAF qualifying for the World Cup leave him second only to Clint Dempsey – a forward – in the section, meanwhile. Another couple against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago in the USA’s final two fifth round games and Pulisic could yet find himself strutting his stuff on the biggest stage of them all.
Many in the game have speculated that Pulisic could go on to become the USA’s first genuinely world class player. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a nation in which football of the NFL variety, basketball and baseball are so popular, many of the best American soccer players to date have relied on hand-eye coordination – Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard come to mind. Pulisic may not share those goalkeepers’ wing-spans, but it would appear he has similarly broad shoulders. After a stuttering qualification campaign for Russia 2018, Alexei Lalas recently levelled strong criticism at the current international crop. “I heard about it,” said Pulisic. “I’m not going to lose any sleep over what [he] has to say about us. He can say what he wants.”
With global superstars like Aubameyang, Marco Reus and Mario Götze for company, Pulisic remains refreshingly close to his roots. The night before that record-breaking goal against Bolivia he had been at his high school prom, having remained in close touch with those he grew up with, after Dortmund let him fly out for international duty a day early. Now nearly 4,000 miles away from Hershey in North Rhine-Westphalia, Pulisic has developed firm friendships with – whisper it quietly – Schalke duo Weston McKennie and Haji Wright, with the US trio regularly enjoying FIFA tournaments and bantering on social media.
Having made such impressive strides in the game it’s easy to forget that Pulisic is still a teenager – 19 today – and like many of his cohorts he’s partial to a bit of Justin Bieber, going so far as to Tweet the Canadian-born Billboard Hot 100 mainstay about tickets to a concert in Cologne for his birthday last year. Do Pulisic’s teammates pull his leg for being a Belieber? “I guess,” he told ESPN with a grin at the time. “But everyone likes Bieber, I think!”
— Christian Pulisic (@cpulisic_10) 8 May 2016
Born on 18 September 1998, Pulisic shares a birthday with Hamburg’s Lewis Holtby and Schalke’s Max Meyer – both once considered to be Bundesliga wunderkinds in their own right. Brazilian great Ronaldo – a three-time FIFA World Player of the Year and two-time World Cup winner – was also born on this day. Away from football, actors James Gandolfini – of Sopranos’ fame – and Jada Pinkett Smith also share a birthdate with the player who looks destined to have his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame one day.