2017 22under22 Countdown – #16: Christian Pulisic

“Christian is miles ahead of where I was at that age.”
– Landon Donovan


Date of Birth: September 18th, 1998 (18 years old)
Nationality: American
Position: Winger/Attacking Central Midfielder
Club Appearances: 33 (5 goals)
International Appearances: 13 (4 goals)
EiF Ability Rating: 62

*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, in which we reveal EiF’s top 22 players in the world born after 1995, with #16, Christian Pulisic. The 18-year-old American prodigy has enjoyed an incredible season with both Borussia Dortmund and the United States Men’s National Team, and many are already tipping him to be America’s greatest ever player. Pulisic has recorded 8 goals and 7 assists in 41 appearances so far this season, and his performances have earned him the #10 jersey for the USA and 19 starts for Borussia Dortmund.

Christian Pulisic was born and raised in Hershey, Pennsylvania, home of the famous Hershey’s Chocolate World. He played for the PA Classics for 7 years before being snapped up 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. During the 2016 calendar year, 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, and the youngest player to score a goal for the United States. Quite an impressive resume, and surely the list of honors will only continue to grow.


Strengths


Pulisic’s greatest strength is his ability to dribble and combine with teammates to advance the ball into dangerous positions. Pulisic beats defenders with ease, utilizing body feints and clever drops of the shoulder to ghost past the opposition. 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. Perhaps more important than his technical attributes are his mental attributes. He is incredibly brave, and does not shy away from being tackled. Plus, he is willing to defend (although defending is by no means one of his strong suits). Additionally, Pulisic’s first touch is impeccable, and this attribute was on display in this past Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg clash with Monaco. Pulisic was substituted on at the 45-minute mark and almost single-handedly changed the game in Dortmund’s favor, sparking a second half resurgence with his direct dribbling and 1v1 ability.

In addition to Pulisic’s ability off the dribble, he also combines with his teammates very well. His short passing is extremely accurate and he is far from selfish, but his greatest contribution to Dortmund’s flowing attacking moves is the runs that he makes. With creative midfield players such as Ousmane Dembele, Julian Weigl, and Shinji Kagawa in the Dortmund side, a well-timed run is often met with an incisive pass to break the midfield lines or get in behind the back line. Pacey attacking players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang often make runs in the center of the field, but when Aubameyang clears out of that central space, it leaves a gap for Pulisic to make a diagonal run from the outside of the field towards the middle, and he is very aware of how to time these types of runs and how to alert his teammates to his intentions.

Pulisic
Christian Pulisic’s close control and direct dribbling make him a highly dangerous attacker (Photo: Sports Illustrated)

Additionally, Pulisic is highly versatile, which allows him to occupy multiple positions and roles within the fluid Dortmund attack. He is usually employed on the right side of a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3, but he has also played as a central attacker in a 3-5-2, most notably in a Champions League match against Benfica, in which he recorded an assist and scored a lovely chipped goal in a 4-0 victory. Notice the shape and timing of Pulisic’s run, this time from the middle outwards. Pulisic is not always the main creator in the Dortmund side, but for the US he is certainly the player that is relied upon to instigate the attack. In a recent World Cup Qualifying match against Honduras, Bruce Arena employed Pulisic in a central attacking role, and he was absolutely stunning, scoring one and assisting three in a massive 6-0 win. At the age of 18, he is already donning the #10 shirt, breaking records, and making a genuine claim as the best player on the team.


Weaknesses


Although he is a silky smooth dribbler, Pulisic is unable to compete in the air and in physical battles with most defenders. He can usually bypass defenders by utilizing his pace and ability to run with the ball, but when he is caught too close to a defender, he can be easily muscled off the ball. Like most players who are similar to him, he will need to continue to learn how to create enough space to avoid a straight physical battle with larger players. When Lionel Messi takes on much larger players, the angle of his touches and slight body fakes keeps the ball far enough away from defenders that they must either foul him or pass him on to another defender. If Pulisic can master a similar technique, he will be even more effective off the dribble than he already is.

Pulisic
Pulisic chipping the ball over Ederson Moraes to give Dortmund a 2-0 lead over Benfica (Photo: Goal)

Another shortcoming of Pulisic’s is that his long passing is not quite up to par. He generally does not need to play expansive, cross-field balls in the positions and roles that he fulfills within the Dortmund side, but it would be nice for him to have a reliable long ball in his locker to use at the right moment. If defenders were worried about him playing a cross-field ball, they would likely stay slightly closer to their marks on the opposite side of the field. This would mean that Pulisic and the teammates near him would have more space in which to combine and create. The absence of a long ball in his arsenal will be even more of a problem if Bruce Arena continues to employ him in a central attacking role for the USMNT, but Pulisic’s short passing ability and impeccable technique suggests that he should be able to improve his long passes fairly easily if he puts the work in.


Christian Pulisic has already achieved so much, and at the age of 18 he represents one of the most famous clubs in Europe and carries the hopes and dreams of a nation on his shoulders. He is motivated, humble, and brave, and he has more than enough skill to justify the hype that surrounds him. He can score goals, he can combine with teammates, and he can consistently beat players off the dribble. He is a wonderful talent, and you can expect him to be the United States’ best player before without argument before he reaches the age of 20. If he continues to develop, we will likely see him start consistently next season at Borussia Dortmund. What a bright future this kid has in front of him. Godspeed, Christian.

Previous: #17, Manchester United’s rapid youngster, Marcus Rashford
Next: #15, 2016 European Golden Boy and Euro Cup winner, Renato Sanches

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