Christian Pulisic. A name on the lips of every soccer fan in America and a name that’s been ringing in the ears of every Premier League soccer fan. As the 21-year-old becomes one of the most talked-about players in soccer, he, in turn, offers a glimmer of hope for the U.S. men’s national soccer team. Could Christian Pulisic truly lead the U.S. to glory this decade? Let’s take a look.
Born in the chocolate capital of the United States, the Hershey, Pennsylvania native grew up playing soccer for various youth teams, including Brackley Town in England where he lived for a year at the age of seven. His passion and proclivity for the sport, which he got from his soccer-playing parents, eventually led him to the Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, who signed him as a 16-year-old in February of 2015.
Borussia Dortmund Academy
Pulisic quickly rose through the ranks at Dortmund, making his Bundesliga debut in January 2016 and his European debut the following month in the Europa League. A few days after that, the American got his first Bundesliga start, and, in April, he scored his first Bundesliga goal, becoming the youngest non-German and fourth-youngest player to score a goal in the Bundesliga at 17 years and 212 days old. Over the next three seasons, Pulisic became an important and influential player in a strong European side, helping Dortmund win the 2016-17 DFB Pokal and recording 19 goals and 26 assists in 127 games with the senior team.
Move to Chelsea
In January of 2019, Pulisic joined Chelsea for $73 million, becoming Chelsea’s third most expensive signing as well as the most expensive American player of all time. He remained at Dortmund on loan for the remainder of the season before moving to London in the summer, where he would play his first season of Premier League soccer with a team that had just sold Eden Hazard and been hit with a two-window transfer ban. To top it all off, Chelsea appointed former midfielder Frank Lampard as its manager in only his second year as a coach, leading the soccer world to acknowledge the transitional nature of Chelsea’s upcoming season.
To describe Chelsea’s current season as merely transitional, however, would be an injustice. With only two games left to play, Chelsea is leading the race for a Champions League spot, ahead of Manchester United and Leicester City by one point, and Christian Pulisic has played an immense part in Chelsea’s success.
Finding His Feet
Despite missing upwards of 13 games due to injury this season, Pulisic has vindicated his $73 million price tag and shown the Premier League and the world that he means business. Pulisic has bagged eight goals and five assists in 23 league games so far this season, including a perfect hat trick against Burnley, as well as 18 total goal contributions in 31 games in all competitions. Not even a global pandemic could faze the 21-year-old, as he has managed three goals and three assists in the league since the restart of play.
Recently, the American has been drawing heavy comparisons to Chelsea’s former superstar, Eden Hazard. Pulisic, however, is “not trying to compare [him]self” to the Belgian, but rather “be [his] own player” for Chelsea. Nevertheless, Pulisic is a world-class soccer star in the making, and Americans are getting quite excited over the potential and future of their national team.
History of the USMNT
To date, the United States Men’s National Team’s best finish in a World Cup was in the first tournament ever held in 1930. The U.S. finished third. Since then, the USA has only qualified for the tournament nine teams and only made it past the Round of 16 once. Landon Donovan, who is widely believed to be the greatest American soccer player of all time, led the U.S. to the quarterfinals in 2002. The most recent World Cup triumph of the USMNT came in 2014, when goalkeeper Tim Howard gave one of the best performances of his distinguished career in the U.S.’s loss to Belgium in the Round of 16, making 16 saves in total.
Unfortunately, two years ago, the United States Men’s Soccer Team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986 after a shocking performance against Trinidad and Tobago in the qualifying round ended in a 2-1 defeat. However, the U.S. did win the CONCACAF Gold Cup the year before for the sixth time in its history. Besides the World Cup and the Gold Cup, the USMNT lost 3-2 to Brazil in the final of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, a tournament that was abolished last year. The U.S. team will also play Honduras in the semifinals of the newly established CONCACAF Nations League whenever the rest of the tournament gets rescheduled for in 2020.
Future of the USMNT
Finally, with only a few months left before CONCACAF qualifying begins, the U.S. should feel hopeful that its team can perform well enough this time around to earn a spot in the group stages of the 2022 World Cup, especially considering the team is ranked 22nd in the world by FIFA. In fact, not only does the USA have a Premier League superstar on its roster, but the squad is rife with plenty of other talented players that could make a significant impact as well. Here are some of the most important stars in the USMNT’s roster that could help the team rise to the next level.
Just to reiterate, Pulisic is 100% the main guy. In the coming years, he will be the U.S.’s best attacking threat as well as the team’s primary playmaker on the pitch. Likened to Eden Hazard at only 21 years old, Pulisic’s speed and change of pace make him a nightmare for defenders, and his footwork isn’t that bad either. His close control and ability to quickly change direction draws in challenges from defenders that often result in fouls in dangerous positions. He is a confident and composed finisher as well. In fact, to get a sense of many of these attributes, one only has to watch his counterattack goal for Chelsea against Manchester City this season.
— #MyPLSummer (@NBCSportsSoccer) June 25, 2020
In October of 2019, Dutch-born fullback Sergiño Dest of Ajax chose to play for the United States rather than the Netherlands, a decision that truly shocked the soccer world. It is no question that the Dutch national team is superior to the U.S. national team, but having Dest in the USMNT’s defense could make a huge difference. The 19-year-old has said that his decision was heavily influenced by personal “feelings” and “emotions” due to the fact that he grew up playing for the USA’s youth teams.
Dest currently plays for AFC Ajax in the Eredivisie and kept 15 clean sheets in 36 games this season. He also tallied five assists in 20 league matches. The 19-year-old has already won the Dutch Super Cup with Ajax and was top of the league as well before COVID-19 forced this season to be canceled. Dest will hope to earn a place in the starting lineup next season as well as win his first league title, and he’ll certainly play a big part in the USMNT’s backline going forward.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 28, 2019
Borussia Dortmund gave the 17-year-old attacking midfielder a shot this year with 15 appearances in the Bundesliga as well as two appearances in the Champions League and one in the DFB Pokal. And when presented with an opportunity, Giovanni Reyna has taken full advantage.
One of Reyna’s most notable performances for Dortmund this season include his 22 minutes against PSG in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 when he came off the bench and galvanized his team to score two goals, one of which he assisted. He also got an assist in his first Bundesliga start at the end of this season against RB Leipzig,
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 20, 2020
In 2019, 21-year-old Red Bulls academy talent Tyler Adams made the switch to a fellow Red Bull GmbH-owned team, RB Leipzig. Since then, Adams has become a regular for the German team. Unfortunately, the defensive midfielder has struggled with injuries while in Germany, but he was still able to help his team to a third-place finish this year, only three points behind teammate Gio Reyna’s Borussia Dortmund. Adams and his phenomenal work rate will be an important piece in the U.S. midfield in the coming years.
That pass from Tyler Adams 👌🔥
The 20-year-old USMNT midfielder picked up his first Bundesliga assist today for RB Leipzig 👏 pic.twitter.com/uKLUKcMmSm
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 16, 2019
Another American playing in Germany is Schalke 04’s Weston McKennie. The 21-year-old midfielder can play in an attacking or defensive role and has been a regular in Schalke’s starting XI for the past two seasons. McKennie also wore the captain’s armband in the 2019 Gold Cup final against Mexico and could be an important leader for the United States this decade. Although the team will mainly be built around Christian Pulisic, a midfield of McKennie, Adams, and Reyna could very well be the strongest area on the field for the USMNT.
Weston McKennie! 💥 🇺🇸
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 17, 2020
On loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga, the 25-year-old Manchester City goalkeeper, unfortunately, couldn’t help the German side avoid relegation. However, he had been injured for the entire second half of the season. Zack Steffen will mostly likely start in goal for the USMNT in the coming years and become Manchester City’s backup goalkeeper next season behind the Brazilian Ederson.
ZACK. STEFFEN. 🚫🚫
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) September 22, 2019
The 6’4″ center-back kept nine clean sheets for VfL Wolfsburg this season and has started for the club since his move from Hertha Berlin in 2017. At 27 years old, John Brooks’ strength and experience will be a key attribute in a developing U.S. team. He is certainly the best defender at the USMNT’s disposal when fit, and hopefully, he’ll be able to stay fit as the 2021 Gold Cup and the 2022 World Cup both approach.
JOHN BROOKS 💪🇺🇸
He ties the game for Wolfsburg in the 90th minute and picks up his 3rd goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/ghbCmFK2Jk
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 22, 2019
The 20-year-old Werder Bremen striker recorded four goals and four assists in 28 appearances in the Bundesliga this season. Sargent will hopefully gain more consistent playtime as well as a starting role for the German club in the coming seasons, but he’ll surely be one of the primary strikers on the USMNT this decade.
JOSH. SARGENT! 🔥🔥
The run, the brilliant first touch, the chip of the keeper. What a goal from the American! 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/x5X9FMhXL4
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) September 1, 2019
The son of 1995 Ballon d’Or winner and current President of Liberia, George Weah, Tim will hope to emulate his father’s distinguished career both on the club level and for the USMNT. After making a name for himself at PSG and on loan at Celtic in Scotland, Weah made the switch to Lille last year. Unfortunately, Weah has only managed three matches for the French club due to injuries that kept him on the sideline for the majority of this past season. Nonetheless, Weah and Sargent will hopefully bring plenty of quality upfront for the USA.
OH. MY. GOODNESS. TIM WEAH. 😳
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 30, 2019
Could the US really win the World Cup?
With these players as well as the experience of 25-year-old attacker Julian Green, 27-year-old Red Bulls defender Aaron Long, 30-year-old Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore, and 32-year-old Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley, the U.S. Men’s National Team could certainly pose a threat in any tournament that it competes in this decade. The next big tournament for the USMNT is the new CONCACAF Nations League of which the USA is already in the semifinals. The U.S. will play Honduras whenever the tournament recommences, and if the Americans prevail, will play either Costa Rica or Mexico in the final.
The next tournament after that is the 2021 Gold Cup. The U.S. lost to Mexico in the final of this competition two years ago and will look to take revenge on its southern rival. Then, in 2022, the 32 teams will meet up in Qatar for the World Cup. Just over two years away, could the USMNT truly challenge for the World Cup trophy? Could Pulisic lead America to its first World Cup in its history?
Well, technically, yes. In truth and reality, however, it’s pretty unlikely. While the U.S.’s odds to qualify for the tournament are promising, the quality of players in many of the top national teams in the world surpasses that of the U.S.’s homegrown talents greatly. France, England, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands all have incredibly strong sides and will only continue to develop young talents through their world-class soccer programs. So, although 2022 may be approaching too quickly for the USMNT to have a legitimate shot, World Cup 2026 could be the year that our country truly poses a challenge in the fight for soccer’s most prestigious and coveted trophy.
With six years for 21-year-old Christian Pulisic and the rest of our talented youngsters to develop further, the American players that we’re talking about today could all be in their prime. Not to mention, many of the top national teams’ best players, especially those of Belgium and Holland, will be past their prime in six years’ time, hopefully allowing for a new team to make a run in the tournament.
Here are my predictions for how far the USMNT will make it in every tournament over the next six years.
2020 CONCACAF Nations League: Winner
2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup: Semifinals
2022 FIFA World Cup: Round of 16
2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup: Winner
2024 CONCACAF Nations League(?): Final
2025 CONCACAF Gold Cup: Winner
2026 FIFA World Cup: Semifinals