He is, ‘The future of American soccer.’ He is, ‘Not another Freddy Adu.’ He is, ‘The most popular American in Germany since David Hasselhoff.’ He is 17-year-old Christian Pulisic. He is sitting on Thomas Tuchel’s bench, again, in the Bundesliga. (Editor’s note: this piece was submitted BVB’s Champions League match against Legia.)
Few players took more of an advantage of the international break than the young Pennsylvanian. His 2 goals and 2 assists in 113 minutes of play for the United States sent a clear message to his manager at Borussia Dortmund. Put me in coach. I’m ready to play, today. Look at me, can I be a center midfielder? Sorry, couldn’t resist the John Fogerty reference in a German soccer article.
While young Pulisic was dissecting the defenses of St Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago, the American media went into overdrive. Nothing but praise was heaped on the kid who got only his first start as a senior national against the Soca Warriors. He became one of those rare American soccer stories that permeated the country’s clogged sports zeitgeist, doing interviews with virtually every media outlet in the country.
Thomas Tuchel was apparently not paying attention to the media storm and is not drinking the Pulisic kool-aid. For a 2nd straight game he kept his young American wunderkind firmly on the bench, even as his vaunted Dortmund attack failed to score against newly promoted RB Leipzig. Before the game, Tuchel said the youngster would need to earn his way into the side and hinted that he was unimpressed by the teenagers work given the low level of competition brought by the two island nations he competed against with the USA.
Last season, Pulisic featured in 9 Bundesliga games and contributed 2 goals to the potent BVB attack. This season, it is hard to see him improving on those numbers, big changes in personnel have put his position at the club in doubt. Although Henrik Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gündogan have moved to opposite sides of Manchester, this summer saw the arrival of Germans Andre Schürrle and Mario Götze along with a record amount of signings for Dortmund.
While BVB were the top scoring side last season in Germany with 84 goals in the league, they allowed twice as many goals as their rival Bayern Munich. Combine that with the loss of stalwart Mats Hummels to Bayern and the long-term injury woes of Neven Subotic, defense looked to be an area of need in the transfer window. Tuchel responded by spending only €8 million of Dortmund’s nearly €110 million in spending on central defenders, in the person of Marc Bartra. Conversely, €52 was spent on the combination of Götze and Schürrle.
Why are these two examples pertinent to Pulisic’situation?
The young American has made his mark on the left wing, the exact positions that Götze and Schürrle occupied for BVB against RB Leipzig. Neither was able to impress in the game , but the two did once combine for a goal that won Germany a World Cup Final. This fact will likely give them a few more chances before they lose their spot to a 17-year-old American.
The bottom line is that Pulisic now faces the same challenge that any young player breaking into one of the finest sides in Europe faces. Although in America he may be the football version of the greatest thing since sliced bread, at Dortmund he is just an up-and-comer trying to break into a team that is loaded up front.
Tuchel may not be buying into the hype, but if Dortmund struggle as badly as they did against RB Leipzig again; it is hard to imagine that Christian Pulisic won’t get his chance sooner rather than later.
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