Christian Pulisic enjoyed a recent seven-game spurt for Chelsea. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
Given the hype, expectations and what he already has accomplished for the U.S. national team, Christian Pulisic always will have much to live up to.
This year, the pressure was ratcheted even higher when Borussia Dortmund transferred the 21-year-old midfielder to Chelsea for $73 million, a record for an American soccer player.
While he showed flashes of brilliance with the Bundesliga side, Pulisic never reached his potential on the club level.
Given an opportunity to play for an English Premier League team that was managed by former England international and New York City FC midfielder, observers felt that Pulisic could start coming into his own.
During a seven-game spell in October and November, the Hershey, Pa. native did, connecting for six goals, which included his first professional hat-trick in a 4-2 victory at Burnley Oct. 26. It was his first start for Chelsea in almost two months.
Pulisic joined the retired Clint Dempsey as the only American men to record an English Premier League hat-trick. He also became the first USA player to register a natural hat-trick in the league and the youngest Chelsea player to secure a hat-trick in the EPL.
“I came to the team and I wanted to make an impact,” Pulisic said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Pulisic connected for a unique hat-trick, scoring goals with both feet and his head.
Asked what his favorite goal was, the Hershey, Pa. native replied, “It’s tough to say. I would have to go with the left foot.”
“I feel he’s going to be a really good player for us,” Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said. “Delighted for him, delighted for him.
“There’s been a lot of talk around Christian because of the big price tag, the fact he’s a star in his country and captain of the USA national team. I know his back-story and the pressures of a move like that. I also know that he’s played for his country throughout the summer and only had one week’s break.
“I’ve tried to deal with it in the way I see best, which is to give him minutes. He has played games this season already, but I’ve also got competition in that area and I need them all trying to perform when they get in the team. Christian has been doing that recently from the bench, he fully deserved his start today and it was a fantastic match-winning performance.”
Pulisic recorded a natural hat-trick, scoring Chelsea’s first three goals as the visitors opened up a four-goal advantage before Burnley could find the net.
“I know what a good player he is because I see it close up every day,” Lampard said. “There are obviously things that he has to learn and improve because he’s just turned 21 and it’s the same as all the other young players, but he knows that, and he knows I’m driving that daily in training.”
On Nov. 19, Pulisic scored his first UEFA Champions League goal in the Blues’ 2-2 draw at Valencia. That was Pulisic’s sixth goal in his last seven appearances for the club.
After Mateo Kovacic equalized for the visitors in the 40th minute, Pulisic poked home Kurt Zouma’s header early in the second half to lift the Blues to a 2-1 lead. At first, the goal was ruled to be offside, but after a long Video Assistant Referee review, the goal was awarded as Pulisic was just even with his defender.
Since then Pulisic hasn’t done much for Chelsea. Perhaps he will regain his scoring form during several holiday matches.
Recently he was named U.S. Soccer’s male player of the year for the second time, becoming the youngest player to secure that honor a second time. Pulisic edged out Seattle Sounders FC and U.S. international forward-midfielder Jordan Morris for the award.
But if Pulisic is to make a major impact, it will have to be more than just winning U.S. male soccer player of the year, but perhaps vying for some top international honors as well.
Is that too much to ask of an American men’s soccer player? Perhaps, but Christian Pulisic has proven to be heads and shoulders above players of his generation.
Tuesday: Story No. 7