Christian Pulisic: American Hero

As the player who has been called "the face of American Soccer," Christian Pulisic is a hero to fans of the beautiful game in the United States. He is not only the youngest player to captain the U.S. Mens National Team, but has won big trophies and set records in both the Bundesliga and Premier League as well. And he's only 24. Even more surprisingly, he has already experienced a dramatic career arc filled with injuries and big club drama that saw his market value peak at €60 million, yet now sits at only €25 million. His move to Milan represents a chance to demonstrate his worth again. For him, it is a move filled with hope and anticipation for the player he might still become. For the Club, they are cashing in on his value as an American hero.

Finally, another player who has actually won a Champions League trophy before.

It is always great when a player is truly excited to come to Milan. In all of his interviews and his welcome Press Conference, it is very clear that Pulisic understands the opportunity and honor it is to wear the Milan shirt, and he is both excited and grateful to be here. That is in part due to conversations with Pioli, who made him feel that he was wanted, something he did not always feel at Chelsea. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is also making the jump from Stamford Bridge to the San Siro this summer, and they join former Chelsea players Tomori and Giroud, as well. Pulisic even took a call from Giroud during his signing, who told him it was good to see him wearing the Milan shirt. Giroud had also previously spoken highly of him when the possibility arose of Pulisic joining him at Milan, as they had played well together during their time at Chelsea.

He understands the weight of the jersey.

Pulisic is an American citizen, having been born in Hershey, Pennsylvania, known as America's chocolate capital for the candy brand of the same name headquartered there. However, he also has Croatian citizenship by virtue of his paternal grandfather, Mate Pulišić, who was born in Croatia (that citizenship gives him EU status and helps Milan.) Christian carries more than just the passport, though, as his middle name is also Mate (pronounced MAH-tay in Croatian) after his grandfather, who sadly passed away a few years ago. 

It is perhaps fate that Christian would end up playing in Italy, too, as his late grandmother on that side, Johanna DiStefano, was Sicilian. He wisely used that fact in an interview as an opportunity to declare Milan as "the greatest Italian club," which can only help him score more points with the fans. He recalled her amazing cooking, but she clearly did not give him language lessons, he'll have to study on his own now that he is there. But he is fluent in German and knows a lot of Spanish, so he will do fine. Plus, there are so many English speaking players in the squad right now.

Captain America with his mom, sister, dad, and older brother, Chase.

Football came naturally to Christian, as both his father, Mark, and his mother, Kelley, played at the collegiate level, and his father actually played indoor soccer professionally as well, and has worked in the industry since. Christian's first foray into football was with a local league in Hershey called Gunners FC at four years old. Both he and his older sister Devyn played, and at that point, she actually seemed more promising. But within two years, he was showing signs of the player he would become – fast, technically gifted, and hungry for goals.

His mother is given much of the credit for developing his passion, as it was during her year abroad as a Fulbright Scholar in England that Christian played for Brackley Town at the age of seven. It wasn't so much the time he played with the club, however, but the time he spent playing after school without being coached, just the culture of having fun with football that changed his entire mindset toward the game. He also actually had a trial at Chelsea during this time, a little  glimpse of his future. The following year, his father was general manager of a team in Detroit, Michigan. While there, his father actually developed a futsal league in order to help him develop his technical skills, something that is common in the development of Brazilian players.

A young Pulisic with his dad and Pep Guardiola at La Masia on one of their "football vacations."

His father also had connections in Europe that allowed the family to take "football vacations." These were trips where Christian would train with European clubs such as at La Masia, Barcelona's youth academy for brief spells between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. He also grew up watching European football, which was unusual for a young American, and remembers watching players like Zlatan and Kaká play for Milan in the Champions League. His parents did not push him, they merely supported him, but Christian had a natural drive to play and become better.

After the spell in England, the Pulisic family returned to Hershey, where Pulisic played for PA Classics in Pennsylvania, a U.S. Soccer Development Academy. He has since given back to that team and community by creating a center that includes a number of small pitches where kids can go and play anytime. He has noted that this is a difference between American kids and kids throughout the world, that in their free time, American kids go and play basketball or other sports, while everywhere else, they play football. His dream is to help change the culture so that kids in the States will also play without coaches, just for fun, for hours after school, to help develop their passion for the game.

Pulisic at the ribbon cutting for the soccer center for the Pennsylvania community where he played.

In September of 2015, just ahead of his 16th birthday, Pulisic made the big jump to the Bundesliga by signing for Borussia Dortmund. There he played first for their U17 side, then quickly moved up to their U19 team. He broke into Dortmund's first team at the age of 17, with appearances not only in the league, but in the Europa League his first season and the Champions League his second season. He became the youngest foreign player to score in the Bundesliga with his first goal, then became Dortmund's youngest player to both appear, then score, in the Champions League. He also helped them win the 2016-17 DFB-Pokal trophy, a competition that is comparable to the Coppa Italia, only organized more competitively. In all, he would score 15 goals and register 18 assists in 118 appearances over three and a half years for Dortmund.

Three and a half years at Dortmund to reach the pinnacle of his market value thus far.

Building on his mercurial success in Germany, Pulisic signed for Chelsea in January of 2019, who left the player on loan to the German side for the rest of that season. It was a record transfer fee of €65 million, the most ever paid for an American player. In his first season at Stamford Bridge in 2019-20, he started breaking records right away, too. He scored his first goals with his first ever hat trick, which also happened to be a perfect hat trick. That also made him Chelsea's youngest ever player to score a perfect hat trick.

The good times at Chelsea were very good.

Other firsts that season included his first Champions League goal for Chelsea, and being the first American to score in the FA Cup Final, where they were runners up. He even made the shortlist for nominees for the Premier League's Young Player of the Year. However, it was also a season filled with a serious injury and the COVID lockdown. He was out from January through June with a torn adductor muscle. Although half of that time overlapped with the shutdown for COVID, so at least he missed fewer matches. But then he had a calf injury that turned into a calf strain and kept him out for three more weeks that summer. He would finish the season with 10 goals and five assists in 29 appearances between the Premier League and Champions League.

He also had some injuries during the 2020-21 season: two grueling months out at the beginning of the season with a hamstring injury from the FA Cup Final, and another almost month out with another muscle injury. But, now wearing the number ten, and, as many Chelsea fans are quick to point out, with the departure of coach Frank Lampard mid-season, Pulisic began to improve once again. His former manager at Dortmund, Thomas Tuchel, may have helped, at least in the beginning. He was able to score six goals and created four assists in 37 appearances in his second season, in spite of the injuries.

The first American to actually play in a Champions League final.

Pulisic became the fastest American to reach ten goals in the Premier League in December of 2020. The youngest Chelsea player (and again, first American) to score in a Champions League semifinal, then also assist in the second leg to knock out the mighty Real Madrid. (Ironic that they will be the team he faces first in Milan's American tour.) In the final, Pulisic was initially told by Tuchel that he would start, but then started from the bench. He subbed on to become the first American to ever play in a Champions League final, a final they went on to win vs. Manchester City. He and Giroud both have medals from that one, even if Giroud did not get to play in the final. They join Theo Hernández and Divock Origi as the other Champions League winners in our current Milan squad.

The good times did not last, however, despite the familiar manager at the helm in Tuchel. In the 2021-22 season, Chelsea started out by winning the UEFA Super Cup on penalties vs. Villareal. Pulisic subbed on and scored his penalty in that match. But then, he suffered an ankle injury in October while on national team duty that kept him out almost two months. He did sub on in the Club World Cup Final in January, when Chelsea beat Palmeiras to win their second trophy that season. He also started in the EFL Cup Final vs. Liverpool, but Chelsea lost that one on penalties. In all, he made a total of 32 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea, almost half of those as substitutions, though, scoring eight goals and making only three assists. He later spoke of increasing difficulties between him and Tuchel that led to the manager's decreased faith in him, or at least a significant decrease in opportunities given him.

Between injuries and managerial choices, so many missed opportunities.

This past season, knee problems kept him sidelined for two whole months, from January to March. Under the chaotic parade of four different managers and Boehly's excessively indulgent spending on players in the post-Abramovich era, Pulisic only had ten starts in all competitions, although he did sub on in 20 other matches.  His output was diminished to merely one goal and two assists in all competitions for Chelsea, while the club finished an abysmal 12th place, just two years after winning European glory. It is not difficult to see, however, why he is considered to be underperforming after a season like that, even if the Club as a whole were a complete and total disappointment, completely missing out on Champions League for next season.

While players often struggle when they are having a tough run of form, are riddled with pesky injuries, or feel that they cannot get the opportunities they deserve, few open up about what that is truly like as a human being. Pulisic has openly discussed mental health, including the importance of therapy and talking to people about it. He has even written an autobiography, Pulisic: My Journey So Far, released last October, in which he discusses his struggles with depression. He gets massive respect from me for normalizing the conversation about mental health for athletes, because it is something that should be openly talked about and often is not.

Nevermind what fans call him, he's one of the best to ever wear his country's shirt.

Injuries have impacted his national team form as well, but he is pretty much a national hero. Or as some Americans call him, the "LeBron James of Soccer." He played for both the U.S. U15 and U17 teams. The 20 goals in 34 matches for the U17 side is probably what saw him promoted to the senior team in 2016, when he was just 17 years old. He was called up by then manager Jürgen Klinsmann, and became the youngest American to ever play in a World Cup Qualifier. 

That was the first of so many records he set for the U.S. The youngest player to score, youngest player to score in a World Cup Qualifier, youngest player to score a brace, youngest player to reach ten international goals for the U.S. Mens National Team (USMNT.) He captained the U.S. team that won the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League trophy, scoring a penalty in extra time, which was also the winning goal vs. Mexico in that final. The U.S. do well in their confederation, but on the world stage are still lacking overall.

Captaining his country to victory in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League tournament

However, with players like Pulisic, George Weah's son Timothy, who just signed for Juve, as well as Weston McKennie, who is also there, and Dest, Milan transfer target Yunus Musah, currently at Valencia, and many others, the USMNT is showing improvement. This past World Cup, Pulisic was crucial to the U.S. making it to the Round of 16,  his goal against Iran literally sending them through. He also had two FIFA World Cup Man of the Match performances in the tournament. Additionally, he was named Player of the Tournament in this year's CONCACAF Nations League, when the U.S. again lifted the trophy after defeating Canada in the final. 

He has now made 60 appearances for the senior U.S. Mens' National Team, and scored 25 goals, many of them clutch goals in big matches. As the youngest player to captain the U.S. Mens National Team, fans affectionately gave him the name "Captain America." He has also been U.S. Soccer's Male Player of the Year three times now, in 2017, 2019, and in 2021. At the age of 24, he has already featured in the biggest tournaments and won big trophies and individual awards.

Back to back Nations League titles, and Player of the Tournament, too.

Pulisic's market value rose to as high as €60 million when he transferred to Chelsea, yet now sits at only €25 million. Milan got a deal with a transfer worth €20 million plus €2 million in add-ons. However, it is also a risk, with the history of injuries and the decline in form. More than likely, Milan's scouting team looked at the data, then analyzed the situation, deciding that he would be well worth the risk. The injuries are a concern, especially coming to a club like Milan where injuries are the norm. But the form likely has a lot more to do with lack of opportunity, consistency, and mentality at Chelsea. And those things are Pioli's specialty.

Not only did Pioli convince him of the opportunity available for his specific skillset, he also spoke to Pulisic about how he might utilize him in the team. Pulisic's best goals and form for club and country have been when he played on the left wing, which is Leão's spot. Like Leão, he is a very fast, creative, attacking player, and is also right-footed. But we have Leão. I found an interesting read, although very American-biased, from someone who looked at the stats and showed that Pulisic actually delivers more assists when he plays on the right, and has also performed well in the center. That central spot, playing behind the striker, is the position Pioli is most likely to play him in, from what has been said. However, given our need for a consistent player on the right wing, he could make that spot his, as well. And obviously, should Leão ever get suspended again for some bizarre call or have the rare injury, we finally have someone who could actually take his place and not be a black hole in that position.

Reunited in red and black.

Even from very young, speed and aggression in attack were Pulisic's trademark, and he also works hard, he runs nonstop. Pioli told him that he was sought out because he was a "direct and creative" player as well. Even though much is made of the goal tally he has, Pulisic is equally if not more talented at creating chances for his teammates. In fact, he created all three goals for Borussia Dortmund when they humiliated 2017 Milan in a preseason friendly in China. He had two assists and was taken down by Paletta for the penalty call in that match. 

He is dynamic, with a great first touch,  and holds onto the ball well, one of the top young players in Europe in dribbling. His height is mysteriously listed as between 5'7" and 5'10" depending on where you look, so he is not as much of an aerial threat as some attacking players, but he uses his head more effectively to read the game and find opportunities for himself and his teammates. 

Pulisic's aggressive attacking style won the game for the U.S. vs. Iran in Qatar, but also got him injured.

Pulisic follows Sergiño Dest and Oguchi Onyewu as the third American to sign for Milan. Dest only made nine appearances in all competitions for Milan, despite being an emergency loan from Barcelona to cover for injuries to Florenzi and then Calabria this past season. Onyewu only ever made a few appearances, as well as a training brawl with Ibrahimović. So Pulisic will easily become the best American to play for Milan, and has the opportunity to create even more records for himself. 

Why all of the emphasis on all of his firsts as an American player? Have you ever watched the U.S. Mens National Team play? Are you familiar with their history? (or lack thereof?) Pulisic is truly a trailblazer. Whereas players like Alexi Lalas may have been the first to play in Serie A, and Landon Donovan may hold a lot of useless records in a country with some of the most people and resources, yet no football trophies on the world stage, they are now just talking heads (and poor ones at that.) 

Old friends, new opportunities. Look what Milan did for Giroud's career.

But Pulisic not only went to Europe, he has now gone to some of the biggest clubs in three different leagues, and he has actually been successful. He has been a trailblazer in his mindset, his path, and his determination not to let the history of his federation get in the way of football. He actually grew up watching European football, idolizing Luis Figo playing for Real Madrid (hopefully not as much at Inter) in the Champions League, and even watching Euro Tournaments. He watched football at the highest level, and that is what he aspired to. U.S. Soccer are making changes based on his career path, hoping that it will be a blueprint for future talent to change the fortunes of an entire nation's football history.

However, he is not a typical American off the pitch, either. Through his grandfather, he developed a love for chess, a passion he still has today. In fact, he recently sat down with Five-time World Chess Champion and Norwegian Chess Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, who both represent Puma. Fans can even play against Pulisic online at (well, at least play against his bot, which plays with a 1500 strength.) He got a tattoo of a queen chess piece on his left arm with his grandfather's name below it after he passed away to honor his memory. 

Tactically sound.

He also enjoys playing golf, and played basketball for fun growing up, too. Between his passion for chess and being a published author already, he's perhaps less LeBron and more likely to fit in with players like Pobega, who received his doctorate in business and economics this past year, or De Ketelaere, who had to drop out of law school (and drop his professional tennis gig) in order to play football for a big club.

Hopefully, the train wreck that management has created does not interfere in anyway with Pulisic's career reboot. With so much uncertainty, it is a risk for these players to sign right now as well.  While it is already clear in training that Pulisic is happy, carefree, and eager to turn the page in his career, Milan are absolutely capitalizing on his marketability. Fans actually greeted him at the airport when he arrived, and were waiting for him at Casa Milan after he signed his contract. Despite excitement over other signings, he has garnered the most attention so far, with his jerseys selling at the Milan store before his contract was even signed. 

Capitalizing on his marketability.

But it is in the U.S. that Milan are looking to really cash in on him. It is no mistake that they got the deal done ahead of the U.S. tour next week. I am sure he will fill seats with USMNT fans here in Southern California, where Milan fans are few and far between. And he will make plenty of new fans, too. It is actually already working in my own family. My brother, who follows the USMNT closely, had some conversations with me about Dest this past season. But he immediately reached out when he heard the Pulisic links, and has since told me he'll be following Milan now that he has signed. He even asked me about getting jerseys. Mission accomplished, Cardinale. Bringing families together through corporate greed. 

Although if Milan's American owner, Gerry Cardinale, was really doing his job, he'd protect his new marketing goldmine and find out why Paramount+, who broadcasts the Serie A and Champions League matches here in the United States, is sponsoring our rival club's shirts now. That is a conflict of interest (and also super annoying for rival fans.) The incompetent staff at CBS Sports who cover Serie A are constantly patting themselves on the back for growing the league here in the U.S. (even if we are simply all forced to watch their horrific coverage since they bought the exclusive rights.) However, in signing Captain America, Milan have done more to grow the league overnight than CBS Sports or Paramount have done in the past two years. So Cardinale, chase down that conflict of interest, or at least get a piece of the pie, because Pulisic has the potential to make everyone involved in this deal rich. Isn't that why you signed him?

If he can slide back into the form he had at Dortmund, everyone wins.

Honestly, if Pulisic is able to return to form, it is a win for everyone. Milan wins, the club grows its reach, and a good player and better person gets his career back. I certainly don't mind having more Milan fans around here. And it will be nice to have another attacking player with quality in addition to Giroud and Leão, especially one who has already played with Giroud. So even if it seems foreign to me to have a player from America come to Milan that we can actually put faith in, this one definitely feels different. Maybe he will become not just an American hero, but a Rossoneri hero as well. 

This post inspired by the music of David Bowie's "Young Americans"

Our next match is 
a training friendly
AC Milan vs. FC Lumezzane
Thursday, July 20, 2023 • 17:00 CEST (11am EDT)

Christian Pulisic: American Hero Christian Pulisic: American Hero Reviewed by Elaine on 9:30 AM Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.