At the club that leads the world in home attendance with 81,300 fans per game, a 17-year-old American made his pro debut in January. By year's end, Christian Pulisic played in 21 Bundesliga games, made nine European competition appearances, and became the youngest American to play in World Cup qualifying. What can we expect from the Pennsylvanian in 2017?
Photo courtesy Borussia Dortmund
No doubt about it. Pulisic was the biggest American soccer story of 2016.
In a year in which he attended his high school prom and celebrated his 18th birthday by attending a Justin Bieber concert in Cologne after scoring a goal in Darmstadt, Pulisic played against Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo -- and set records such as:
• Youngest non-German player to score in the Bundesliga and youngest player of any nationality to score twice in the Bundesliga.
• Youngest player to score for the U.S. national team and youngest to score in a World Cup qualifier.
• Youngest player ever to start for Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League.
Borussia Dortmund suffered from a lack of depth in the 2015-16 season when Pulisic broke through, so after they spent more than $100 million on acquisitions -- including German World Cup winners Mario Goetze and Andre Schuerrle, and Portuguese European champion Raphael Guerreiro -- for the 2016-17 season, there were doubts on whether Pulisic would get much playing time. Yet, in addition to playing in each Champions League game, which included a 2-2 tie against Real Madrid in which he assisted on the late equalizer, he played in 12 of Dortmund’s 16 games in the first half of the Bundesliga season.
“Injuries at BVB this season have once again given Pulisic a stage to shine, and the young American has once again seized his early opportunities,” says Soccer America columnist Samuel Charles, who has followed Borussia Dortmund for years. “Dortmund's depth may finally be an issue in the second half of the season, but Pulisic has played well enough to merit further playing time, and betting against this Pennsylvania product seems to be a losing proposition.”
Liverpool, coached by Jurgen Klopp who was at Dortmund’s helm when it signed Pulisic, was reportedly willing to pay a $30 million transfer fee for the young American. That prompted Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc to say Pulisic’s not for sale.
Charles sees why the club values the American kid so highly:
“While he has speed and technique aplenty, Pulisic rarely leaps off the screen like Dortmund's flashier attackers, his dribbling is similarly direct, and effective,” says Charles. “Christian's steady temperament, mature decision-making, and an underrated willingness to track back on defense, have all helped him earn Coach Thomas Tuchel's trust to do the little things. Which is likely why it was Pulisic summoned off the bench to see out the final minutes of a 1-0 home win over Bayern Munich, instead of the uber-talented Ousmane Dembele, who may be Europe's best teenager.
“There is one thing that has remained a constant, regardless of opponent or competition -- in club friendlies before his first-team debut, or walking out as a starter at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid and its galaxy of stars -- and that is Christian's composure.”
Borussia Dortmund is struggling in the Bundesliga, in sixth place, but is alive in the German Cup and on a roll in the Champions League. And while Pulisic forges on in Germany, he’ll be a key part of a U.S. national team that’s behind the eight ball in World Cup qualifying.
During Pulisic’s best performances for the USA, he was assisted on two goals by Sacha Kljestan and returned the favor for a Kljestan strike. The duo combined to tear apart the Trinidad & Tobago defense in a 4-0 win.
“I think (Pulisic and Kljestan playing centrally) is an obvious option for our team,” recently hired USA coach Bruce Arena said. “You play both of those players, you could look at a formation of 4-1-4-1, but there are other methods of playing both of them in the center midfield. Clearly, it’s something we’re going to look at.”
Arena visited Pulisic in Germany earlier this month.
“You can see that he is skillful,” Arena said. “He is a very fast and a technically adept player. Christian has a good mentality already for a kid at his age. He’s been brought along the right way in Dortmund. … There are things that every player could do better. But Christian is an exceptional young player right now. You should always be aware of the fact that he is only 18 years old. If he keeps his head on his shoulders the right way, he will continue to grow and will be very good. I’m firmly convinced of that.”
Christian Pulisic 2016
Jan. 6 -- Promoted to Borussia Dortmund's first team after having played for its U-17 and U-19 squads.
Jan. 11 -- Pulisic assists Shinji Kagawa's goal in a 4-0 friendly win over Eintracht Frankfurt in Dubai.
Jan. 15 -- Pulisic scores in 4-1 friendly win over South Korea's Joenbuk Motors in Dubai.
Jan. 30 -- Enters Borussia Dortmund's 2-0 win over Inglostadt in the 68th minute, making him the youngest American Bundesliga debutant and the eighth youngest player ever to see German first division action.
Feb. 18 -- At 17 years and 5 months, Pulisic becomes youngest American to play in a UEFA competition when he enters Dortmund's 2-0 Europa League for the final three minutes.
Feb. 21 -- Pulisic gets his first Bundesliga start, playing the first half of a 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen.
March 29 -- Pulisic makes his USA debut, entering the USA's 4-0 win over Guatemala to become the youngest American to play in a World Cup qualifier, at 17 years and 193 days old.
April 17 -- Pulisic becomes the youngest foreign-born and fourth youngest player to score in the Bundesliga when he strikes in a 3-0 win over Hamburg
April 24 -- His strike in a 3-0 win over VfB Stuttgart makes Pulisic the youngest player in Bundesliga history to score his second league goal.
May 1 -- Pulisic scores for Borussia Dortmund's U-19 team in a 6-0 win over MSV Duisburg to clinch west region U-19 German championship.
May 28 -- After entering as a 63rd-minute sub, Pulisic scores his first U.S.
goal in the 69th minute of a 4-0 win over Bolivia to become the youngest player to score for the USA.
June 22 -- With the USA trailing 2-0 against Lionel Messi's Argentina, Pulisic enters at halftime of the 4-0 Copa Centenario loss.
July 28 -- Pulisic scores the late equalizer in a 1-1 Borussia Dortmund friendly tie with Manchester City in Shenzhen, China.
Sept. 2 -- Pulisic
enters the USA's game against St. Vincent & The Grenadines in the 66th minute and scores twice to become the youngest American to score in World Cup qualifying. He also assists on Sacha
Kljestan's goal in the 6-0 win.
Sept. 6 -- Makes his first U.S. start and assists on a Jozy Altidore goal in a 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Trinidad & Tobago.
Sept. 14 -- While becoming the youngest Borussia Dortmund player to start a UEFA Champions League game, gets an asset in a 6-0 win over Legia Warsaw and is rated Dortmund's second best player by French sports daily L'Equipe.
Sept. 17 --Pulisic scores his third Bundesliga goal and assists twice in a 6-0 win over Darmstadt.
Sept. 18 -- Pulisic turns 18.
Sept. 27 -- Pulisic assists on the 87th-minute equalizer by Andre Schuerrle in a 2-2 tie with Cristiano Ronaldo's Real Madrid after coming off the bench in the 73rd minute.
Nov. 2 -- Dortmund advances to the UEFA Champions League round of 16 with a 1-0 win over Sporting Lisbon in which Pulisic starts and goes the full 90.
Dec. 7 -- Pulisic starts in a 2-2 tie with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu that clinches first-place in Group F and a seed in the knockout stage draw. Dortmund faces Benfica in the first leg of the round of 16 on Feb. 14.
Dec. 9 -- U.S. Soccer names Pulisic 2016 Young Player of the Year.
Dec. 26 -- Pulisic named to UEFA's Champions League "breakthrough team" after appearing in all six of Borussia Dortmund’s UCL games.