By Michael Lewis
Mark Pulisic will never be confused with a helicopter parent, hovering over his son. But even the father of Christian Pulisic can’t believe some of the headlines, hype and expectations surrounding U.S. national team standout.
Headlines hail the 18-year-old Pulisic as the next superstar, the team’s savior.
Prior to the U.S.’s World Cup qualifier in Mexico in June, a picture of Pulisic dominated the front sports page of Reforma with the headline: American dream.
“Listen, here’s my take on the media and I really never discuss this,” Mark Pulisic said earlier this year. “Most interviews, they don’t go this direction. But its borderline amusing, OK? For them to compare a 17-, 18-year old player to a Landon Donovan, for instance, who has done so much, who has been so successful in this country, who’s had such a great career — I don’t care if it was in Europe or the U.S. — for his national team, is ridiculous. OK?”
Now, Pulisic, a native of Centereach, L.I. knows his son his talented, but he also stressed that Christian was only a teenager and at the cusp of his career for club and country. Donovan set the standard for American men’s soccer in Major League Soccer and the national team, performing in three World Cups.
“Landon Donovan had a great career,” said Pulisic, who is assistant coach of the Rochester Lancers in the United Soccer League. “Landon Donovan is Landon Donovan. and he’ll always be remembered as Landon Donovan. Don’t put another name next to that. It’s not fair, it’s not right to do. That’s my opinion. My son is 18. To say he’s the best or going to be the best, it’s ridiculous. My son’s so young. He hasn’t had a serious girlfriend yet. Who knows how he’s going to react to that part of his life? Who knows how he’s going to react to his first major setback when he’s left out of a national team, when he’s left out of the first team? How he is going to come off an injury?”
Pulisic then tapped the table he was sitting at three times.
“How is he going to psychologically handle that?” he added.
“I mean. He’s a young kid. Just let him play, let him develop. Enjoy the moment, enjoy the now. For me, as much as the media says they don’t want to put too much pressure on him or hype him too much, like did Freddy Adu. They’re still doing it. So, we can help Christian to some degree with that as well as his surrounding team his agent, but I just don’t like when people say they’re not hyping because they are. Just let him be. He’s going to fail. He’s going to have bad [days]. If you really want to see an American player who’s at the highest level — and I’m not saying it’s my son, it may not be my son — talk about the veterans and the older players who have established themselves on the national team and put them in the spotlight, ok?
“Don’t say you don’t want to hype him but you do anyway. … I think it’s important [for U.S. Soccer and be very smart on how they handle their young players. Not Christian, all of them. There are some very good other young players coming up in U.S. soccer. Christian is one player. This is not an individual sport, it’s a team sport. There are some very good young players coming up. Give all of them the opportunity, whatever environment they’re in, to develop, to start a career, to start having a good career before you start putting them and comparing them to the best players.
Now, don’t get Pulisic wrong. He understands publicity, but not when it is over the top.
“I understand the hype,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m surprised by it. I understand what media has to do and I understand their job. I guess as a parent we’re just trying to be a little more protective. So that’s just a natural protective mechanism as a parent. You don’t want your son to hear all those things. You just want him to focus on playing. And i get it all. But some of the things I do read and some of the things I do hear are quite amusing and are a little bit too much.”
At a Tuesday press conference in New York City Tuesday, this reporter asked Christian what he thought of all the hype and attention.
“Of course, I hear about all this stuff people talk about,” Pulisic said. “This kid, there’s hype, whatever. I just try to keep it out of my mind as much as I can because that doesn’t really matter to me. I put enough pressure on myself. I don’t need all this outside tension or whatever. I just try to do the best I can for myself and the people around me.”
It has been quite a year for the teen as Christian has earned a starting spot with his club team, Borussia Dortmund, and has become a fulcrum of the U.S. national team attack.
“For me everything happened a little bit too fast,” he said. “The past year has been a roller coaster. Being able to play at club level at a high level, and then getting called into the national team, it’s amazing. But I’m just trying to stay as level-grounded as I can, finding a balance.”