“When he plays, everything seems so simple and normal. I want to be like that too. He’s only two years older than me, but what he has already achieved with the USA, despite the huge pressure on him, is an inspiration for me.”
Date of Birth: September 18th, 1998 (19 years old)
Position: Winger/Attacking Central Midfielder
Club Appearances: 91 (10 goals, 14 assists)
International Appearances: 20 (9 goals, 6 assists)
EiF Ability Rating: 58.5
*EiF Ability Rating is a representation of a combination of the player’s current ability and potential ability. It is determined by multiple rounds of voting, and then an addition of the scores given by each judge. The maximum score a player can have is 80.
We continue our 22under22 countdown with #15, Christian Pulisic. Everyone had high hopes for Pulisic after his stunning 2016/17 season, in which he earned the #16 spot in our 22under22 countdown at age 18. While the young American has not had the best of times this season and other young Bundesliga starts such as Leon Bailey have stolen the spotlight at times, Pulisic is still undoubtedly an exciting prospect. Recent rumors have linked him with Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal with speculation of a transfer fee exceeding £50m.
Christian Pulisic was born and raised in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He played for the PA Classics for 7 years before being signed by Borussia Dortmund in 2015. He impressed while rising through the ranks for both Dortmund and the US National Team, and quickly earned senior call-ups in both sides. Last season, Pulisic became the youngest foreigner to score in the Bundesliga, the youngest player to score two goals in the Bundesliga, the youngest player to represent the United States, the youngest player to score a goal for the United States, the youngest American player to appear, assist, and score in the Champions League, and the youngest American player to earn a major European trophy. While he has run out of records to break this season, he has still continued to improve, despite several road bumps.
Photo: Sports Illustrated
Pulisic’s greatest strengths are his dribbling ability, close control, and pace. Pulisic combines these attributes to beat defenders with ease, utilizing body feints and clever drops of the shoulder to blow past the opposition. Once he is around a defender, there is no catching him, and there are many instances of him touching the ball around a defender who is three or four yards away and still reaching the ball first on the other side. He is incredibly balanced, highly direct with his running, and is able to ride challenges and turn the corner to put defenders in a position in which they must either let him pass or foul him. Technically, Pulisic’s first touch and short passing is excellent, making him a useful player in the final third.
Perhaps equally important to his technical attributes are his mental attributes. He is incredibly brave and does not shy away from being tackled. What most people don’t realize about Pulisic is that despite his size and stature, he is highly aggressive. He will always give the opposition a hard time for 90 minutes on both sides of the ball, and you can never take your eye off him as a defender. Another strong point of Pulisic’s that stems from his mentality is that he does not go quiet in big matches. One could argue he was the most influential player on the field in three separate Champions League matches last season (Benfica, Monaco, Monaco), and he’s reminded us of his tendency to thrive under pressure this year as well with a stellar performance against Bayern Munich and a brilliant 89th minute winner to accompany a man of the match performance in a 2-1 win over Hoffenheim. Although the United States’ World Cup qualifying campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, Pulisic was the undisputed main man for Bruce Arena’s team, scoring 7 and assisting 4 in dazzling style.
From a statistical standpoint, Pulisic has not had a bad individual season. In the Bundesliga, he currently sits fourth in the league in successful dribbles per match with 2.4, he leads the league in regaining possession of the ball in the final third (24 times), and he has scored 4 and assisted 5. The young American’s high performance in the successful dribbles per match and regaining possession in the final third categories is a testament to his aggression and desire, and 4 goals and 5 assists is a respectable return for any 19-year-old.
Much of the criticism Pulisic has received this season is unwarranted and formed due to unrealistically high expectations after his breakout season in 2016/17. However, Pulisic has certainly made his fair share of mistakes in this campaign. In terms of technical ability, Pulisic can still work on his range of passing, particularly his long balls, but his major shortcoming this season has been his decision making. Last season, Pulisic always seemed to be extremely calm on the ball and his decisions were usually the right ones. This season, however, he has tried to do too much on his own. This may stem from the departure of Ousmane Dembélé and injuries to Marco Reus and Maximilian Phillip, changes which cemented Pulisic’s transition into a regular starter for Dortmund, and some think that playing in a full-strength Dortmund side or a new club would be beneficial to Pulisic, even if he is reduced to a “super sub” role.
Another shortcoming of Pulisic’s this season has been a lack of the excitement factor of last season. While he has still had his moments in 2017/18, they have been few and far between compared to his exploits as an 18-year-old. Dortmund as a whole have had a difficult campaign, but it has been disappointing for many to see Pulisic drop off slightly from the performances he was putting in last season. Whether it is a mental issue, adjusting to new tactics and teammates, suffering from the failures of his team as a whole, or something else, Pulisic needs to be more consistent if he wants to wow the fans and continue his ascent to the top of the footballing world.
Christian Pulisic has not had the best season, but make no mistake, he is still one of the brightest prospects in world football. One must not overlook what Pulisic, a 19-year-old American who must play under the pressure of being a starter for a Champions League team and the star of his national team, has accomplished already. And he has the attributes to keep improving. Whether it is under more stable management at Dortmund, at a new club, or wearing his national colors in the next World Cup qualifying campaign, expect to see Christian Pulisic continue to blossom into a star.