U.S. coaches and teammates have heaped tons of praise on Christian Pulisic. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — Every time a promising, young American male soccer player comes along, the media gushes, turning him into the flavor of the week.
It’s another thing when his coaches and teammates heap high praise on Christian Pulisic after the 18-year-old’s performances for club and country.
The midfielder’s accomplishments have been difficult to ignore. He has broken into the Borussia Dortmund lineup and has become a vital cog in the U.S.’s efforts to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In 16 international appearances, Pulisic has tallied seven goals and set up five others entering Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena.
“A lot’s been said about Christian, obviously, him playing on a big club and making an impact,” U.S. assistant coach Dave Sarachan said earlier this week. “How would I say it? He’s like a savant. People ask me what Pulisic’s like. It’s kind of like Beethoven. Here’s a kid, it comes so easy for him. The ball on his feet, the easiness in which he moves, the way his mind works ahead of things. For an 18-year-old and his maturity level and his baseline attitude. He doesn’t get too high or low. When you look at the whole package, it doesn’t add up for an 18-year-old. He’s just got it.”
Head coach Bruce Arena has directed some budding young talent through the years, including Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley. So, he knows a promising player when he sees one.
“Christian’s a little bit more accelerated in his professional career than they were,” Arena said. “At this point Christian has much better support than perhaps Landon had at this time, and Claudio, because he’s got a very experienced group of players who really are our leaders such as Michael [Bradley], Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and DaMarcus Beasley, so it takes a little bit away from the pressures on Christian to be a leader in our program as well.
“Right now, he’s a very gifted player that we’re allowing him the room to grow, both as a player and a person. He doesn’t have that much responsibility in that regard, but simply because of the fact he’s such an outstanding player there’s some responsibilities on and off the field that he has to assume and he’s done that, but I’m thankful we have such great leaders like I mentioned to take some of that pressure off of Christian.”
Former U.S. national team standout Tab Ramos, who played in three World Cups. He is coach of the Under-20 national team and has seen many young promising players come and go. For Ramos, who was a 15-year-old who starred for the U-20 team more than three decades ago, Pulisic is the real deal and perhaps more.
“Christian is just truly special,” he said. “He’s a player like we’ve never had before. He’s got tremendous qualities. He’s got amazing change of pace. He’s got great vision. He’s got all of the things you would want in a player. For me, looking from the outside, I thought that Barcelona should have signed him when I look at all the transfers and everything that’s happened. I thought he would have been a great fit for them. I know he’s a young player, but he’s very well developed and he understands the game so well. I would personally liked to have seen that.”
That goes for Pulisic’s teammates as well. Michael Bradley came up with the old MetroStars as a teenager, making his international debut as a 19-year-old in 2006. So he understands a bit what the Borussia Dortmund midfielder is going through.
“He has surprised me, for sure, just in terms of how good a player he is and ultimately how quickly he’s been able to find the right ways to come into our team and make a real impact, even at this level,” he said. “I can remember watching him with the Under-17s at the World Cup with [U.S. assistant coach and former U-17 head coach Richie Williams] and you could see his talent, his ability,” Bradley added.
“That was so clear. But you never know for sure how quickly some of the other stuff comes along. From the first camp that he’s come in with our team he has found a really good way to fit into the group. You can see what a good kid he is, how much he loves to play, how much he enjoys the time with our group. And as Bruce said, we want to put him in the best possible condition so he that he can play, enjoy himself and ultimately make the biggest difference for our team. That’s on everybody to make sure that we can continue to find the right ways for that.”
Beyond the praise, perhaps Sarachan said the most important words of all.
“We’ve got to keep him healthy,” he said.