It is funny how sports work. Without an injury to Yankees’ first baseman Wally Pipp (a pretty good ballplayer and World Series champion in his own right), baseball may not have its Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig, the Pride of the Yankees. American football fans may never have heard of the likes of then anonymous backups Tony Romo or Tom Brady if not for the unfortunate injury woes of Drew Bledsoe a four-time NFL All-Pro.
Now stands American Christian Pulisic, still not old enough to order a beer in his home country, but presented with a similar opportunity.
In the last couple of weeks Dortmund have not only seen their title chances dwindle, but two of their stars abruptly leave their lineup.
In late February, Mario Götze’s return to Dortmund was put on hold as the World Cup winner was diagnosed with a metabolic disease. The length of time he will be out is still indefinite, as Götze is not permitted to train with the team at the moment.
Adding to the issues was the sad state of affairs that has become Marco Reus’ career. The super-talented attacker has missed over 30 games due to injury in the last two seasons, and after putting on some amazing displays recently, has once again been sidelined by injury — a hamstring injury will keep him out for at least the next month and can be added to the thigh problems, toe injury, abductor problems, various infections, a previous hamstring injury and various muscular problems that have kept Reus off the pitch far too often since the start of the 2015/16 season.
Two transcendent German talents unable to get on the pitch and another one, Andre Schürrle, suffering from nothing more than what a former coach of mine would refer to as ‘rectal cranial inversion’ after early season injury woes, and the 18 year-old Pennsylvanian, Pulisic, is in the spotlight after being a cog in Dortmund’s player rotation for the past year, having played 976 minutes for BvB in league play, a bit less than half of the mintues available.
It was Pulisic who came on for the injured Reus in the 44th minute against Bayer Leverkusen this past weekend. The American responded with a goal and assist in the 6-2 rout.
Schürrle also came into the game and scored on a penalty that he drew in the 85th minute, but the reaction of his teammates seemed to suggest that he was not the one who should have taken the penalty. It’s a good thing he coolly finished it.
Like Pulisic, Schürrle has been out of favor with Thomas Tüchel of late. He has only made one start in the club’s last five league games. Pulisic has only started once in the club’s last six, but his effect on the game was profound after replacing Reus over the weekend.
All signs point to Pulisic getting even more playing time now with Reus down for the next month. With the German out early in the season, Pulisic got most of his 10 league starts in 2016/17 and the fact that the Hershey native was the direct replacement for Reus against Bayer indicates that he is next in line. And with the American’s performance against Benfica Wednesday — providing for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 4th minute goal to erase Benfica’s aggregate lead, his own chipped goal almost an hour later to give BvB the aggregate lead that they wouldn’t surrender, a second shot on frame by the American along with a key pass, three successful dribbles, and four tackles, two interceptions, a clearance and two fouls drawn — Pulisic demonstrated that he can thrive in a ‘must win’ situation. The American ranked 2nd only to teammate Aubameyand, who had a hat trick, in the whoscored.com rankings of Wednesday’s match.
Again, it is unfortunate for the likes of Reus and Götze the way things have panned out, but the timing of this could not be better for Pulisic and his national team. With two of the more important World Cup Qualifiers in recent memory, against Honduras and Panama, on the immediate horizon for the Americans at the end of March, Pulisic getting increased exposure and having success in the Bundesliga and Champion’s League will likely put him in the best form possible when he joins his country.
This is especially crucial considering Pulisic will figure to start and be a key man in the USMNT attack, even with a new coach, Bruce Arena, guiding the Americans. With his speed, balance, elusiveness, passing accuracy (75% success in Bundesliga play, a good rate for an attacker) and willingness to run at opponents, the 5’8″ attacker is a must in the American starting XI, even if he sometimes gets dispossessed too often (six times against Benfica Wednesday) or is betrayed on occasion with a poor first touch. He isn’t world-class yet, but Pulisic is not only the youngest American goal-scorer in international competition during the modern era, but also is the youngest foreigner to score in the Bundesliga and now the youngest Dortmund player to ever score in the Champions League.
The added wrinkle for Dortmund is that with this opportunity Pulisic could claim his spot for the conceivable future. For the first time since he squashed rampant Bayern and Liverpool transfer rumors, fans and pundits alike are legitimately wondering what Marco Reus’ future is at BVB. Götze’s future is also murky at the moment.
A good showing from Pulisic in the coming weeks could put the stamp on a spot in the BVB starting XI that he has been unable to earn so far in his young career. Consistent production from the American could also drastically change his, and his teammates, future at Borussia Dortmund, a club now headed into the Champions League quarterfinals and also poised for a spot in the Pokal semifinals if they can beat 3.Liga overachievers Sportfreunde Lotte. Pulisic, who doesn’t turn 19 until September, could have a profound effect for both club and country, turning an inconsistent Dortmund season and a disappointing American World Cup qualifying phase into something wondrous.
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