Mark Twain once joked that: "A gifted person ought to learn English in 30 hours, French in 30 days and German in 30 years.”
All the more impressive then that 17-year-old Pennsylvanian Christian Pulisic mastered fluent German within a year of joining Borussia Dortmund.
After becoming the youngest American to debut in a major European league, and the eighth youngest Bundesliga debutant in history, Pulisic handled his Jan. 30 postgame interview in near flawless German.
“Christian learned German very fast and is deeply respected by his teammates,” Dortmund’s U-19 head coach Hannes Wolf said last year when he predicted correctly that Pulisic was on the fast track to the first team of the Bundesliga’s second-place club.
Youngest U.S. Teen Debuts
(Major European Leagues)
1. Christian Pulisic (17 years, 3 months), Bor. Dortmund/GER
2. Freddy Adu (18 years, 3 months), Sporting/POR
3. *Neven Subotic (18 years, 5 months), Mainz/GER
4. Rubio Rubin (18 years, 5 months), FC Utrecht/NED
5. Jonathan Spector (18 years, 5 months), Man. United/ENG
6. Michael Bradley (18 years, 7 months), Heerenveen/NED
7. Jozy Altidore (18 years, 9 months), Villarreal/SPA
8. Bryan Arguez (19 years), Eintracht Frankfurt/GER
9. Julian Green (19 years, 3 months), Hamburg/GER
10. Johann Smith (19 years, 6 months), Bolton Wanderers/ENG
*Later switched allegiance to Serbia.
On Sunday, Pulisic played in his fourth Bundesliga game and got his first start, playing the first 45 minutes of a 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen. The previous Thursday, he came on as a late sub in Dortmund’s 2-0 Europa League win over Porto, making him the youngest American to play in a UEFA competition.
Pulisic, who played for the USA at last year’s U-17 World Cup, came out of a soccer family. Both of his parents played college ball at George Mason University. His father, Mark, who later played eight years of pro indoor ball for the Harrisburg Heat, was a forward. His mother, Kelley, was a defender.
“It wasn’t us pushing Christian to soccer,” says Mark Pulisic. “We played a variety of sports. We threw the football. We played baseball. We played catch. Of course, I threw the soccer ball out because I played. We were very careful to have him decide what path to take. And he gravitated toward soccer.”
In fact, Christian was infatuated with soccer from a very young age.
“When he was 5 or 6, he was always lured to the TV to watch soccer,” said Mark. “He was watching full games, not just clips. That's a big part of the learning process that Americans don’t do enough. He really had a bug for it.”
Mark Pulisic, who coached Christian with the PA Classics up to the time that he went abroad, moved to Dortmund with his son on the club’s recommendation and serves an assistant coach on Dortmund’s U-10 team.
“It was a good move because he is still a kid,” Mark said in December. “You get homesick, you’re learning a new language, a new culture. We battled through it together.”
Steve Klein, the PA Classics coaching director and a family friend of the Pulisics, isn’t surprised that Christian is adjusting so well.
“He's very bright,” Klein said. “He's also very serious. When he was going to the national team program at U-14 and U-15, he was just so driven. He wanted be a pro player. He wanted to play in Europe. So it doesn’t surprise me. He and his dad are smart people. They know you want to get into the culture and the quicker you learn the language the better. The best way to acclimatize is to dive in.”
Klein said that Christian’s talent was obvious from when he was very young: “When he was 6 or 7 playing with 9-year-olds – the technical ability with both feet and the instincts, the vision for the through pass …”
At age 13, after playing against Tab Ramos’ NJSA 04, Ramos recommended Christian to then-U.S. U-14 national team coach Manny Schellscheidt. It was Christian’s attitude when he gained national recognition that especially impressed Klein.
“Lot of kids who are 14, 15, 16 and having success with youth national teams, lots of times they develop an ego very quickly that sometimes can derail them,” Klein said. “What really sticks out to me is that about Christian is he’s been able to stay very humble and realize he's got a lot to achieve yet. Everyone around him knew he was having a lot of success, but it never seemed to affect him and change how he was.”