Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic is far from the first American to move to the Premier League. Nor is he the first to inspire young Americans to strive for a spot in the world renown Premier League. However for this generation, they all turn to him and aspire to follow in his footsteps.
Pulisic first jumped across the pond in 2015 and joined Borussia Dortmund’s academy at the age of 16. After impressing with the youth squad, he got called up for the 2015/16 winter break training with the first team, lifting off his career. A few weeks later, he made his Bundesliga and Europa League debuts and eventually got his first Bundesliga start.
Over the next couple years, Pulisic broke into and became the lynchpin of the US Men’s National Team, still before he could legally buy cigarettes. During the US’ failed 2018 World Cup qualification campaign, Pulisic not only led the US, but the entire region in goals for the Hexagonal (Hex) – the 10 game final qualifying round – still a teenager.
And at Dortmund, he continued to make an impact as well. After a bit of sage, he got his transfer on paper to Chelsea in January 2019 and on the field in August the same year.
In less than a year with Chelsea, Pulisic has already set his career high leagues goals in a season, five. And with a hat trick against Burnley, a match where he single handedly won the game and earned a perfect 10/10, he became the youngest American to score a hat trick in the Premier League and Chelsea’s youngest player ever to score a hat trick.
Setting league, club, American, and personal records speaks volumes to him as a player. More importantly, it spoke to an entire generation of up an coming American players.
Carving A New Path
Up until Pulisic, a majority of Americans had gone to Europe and stayed within one country, usually England or Germany. Brian McBride, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Brad Freidel spent almost all their time in England. Steve Cherundolo played his entire career in Germany.
Some others, like Claudio Reyna, Kasey Keller, and DeMarcus Beasley, played in several countries ranging from Spain to Scotland and The Netherlands.
Pulisic, though, seems to have started a new trend, incorporating both previous paths. Step one, go Germany as a teenager to develop into a full professional. Step two, move to a bigger club when ready. It may sound simple. But it’s a very distinct plan as opposed to just going anywhere next if there’s a team that wants you.
“The obvious reason [why so many Americans are playing in Germany now] is it’s accessible for them, without having to jump through hoops for the FA to get a work permit,” Cherundolo explained. Pulisic did have the advantage of a Croatian passport allowing him to go at 16. Still, though, he carved out the path that many Americans are now following in.
This Generation Following Pulisic
Fellow American and Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie, although a month older than Pulisic, is in some ways a part of the generation behind Pulisic as he only made his USMNT debut after the 2018 World Cup qualification debacle.
Speaking to Goal recently, McKennie indicated his desire to move to the Premier League soon. “For me, the next goal is England. It has always been my dream to play in the Premier League” which is typical for Americans in the same way many South Americans see Spain’s La Liga as their desired destination.
McKennie, though, has had a very clear plan in place that he’s working though, saying “I want to join a club that fights for a place in Europe – the Champions League or the Europa League. For now, I’m happy at Schalke because I get to play.”
That last sentence sums up the path perfectly. Of course, every young player wants to play. However, this generation of Americans, including McKennie have shown time and again they’re following the path already laid out.
RB Leipzig and USMNT midfielder Tyler Adams is another player from this generation of Americans that look up to Pulisic. Adams came up through the Red Bull system, starting with MLS’ New York Red Bulls before transferring within the family to Leipzig.
“Before [Pulisic], there were no Americans who had success abroad at a young age. It’s great to see how he has developed at Dortmund and is now even moving to Chelsea and the Premier League” Adams said.
“I’m taking the same step as him, but it was a lot harder because he was younger and had fewer players to follow. Christian is a role model for many young Americans – including me.”
Pulisic’s impact doesn’t end with McKennie and Adams. Forward Josh Sargent plays Werder Bremen. Keeper Zack Steffen is in Germany for a second time, now with Fortuna Dusseldorf. Defender Bayern Munich have Chris Richards in their youth ranks. And attacker Ulysses Llanez is trying to make his way into the senior squad with Wolfsburg.
Next Generation Following Pulisic
But in terms of Pulisic inspiring young Americans to us Germany as a stepping stone, look no further than 17 year old Gio Reyna.
Reyna, like Pulisic is a Number 10 or wide attacker. Also like Pulisic, he moved to Borussia Dortmund before the age of 18 thanks a second passport, a Portuguese one. And just as Pulisic did, the Bundesliga winter break this season is when he received his call up into the senior squad. And he exploded on to the scene with a wonder goal from outside the box in the German cup.
Speaking with The Athletic recently, Reyna said “[Pulisic] didn’t just open the doors for me but for everyone [in the US].” Even more illuminating, he continued, “Because of [Pulisic], young players have come to Europe to big clubs, looking to take the next steps in their career. He’s the one who has really made that possible. He made us believe we could do this.”
And like Pulisic, for Reyna, “Dortmund was the perfect place for me because I knew they gave young players like Christian Pulisic and Ousmane Dembele time on the pitch and a chance to do it.” He summed it up by saying, “I’m on the right path…”
To get on my high horse a bit, who at Chelsea right now is the role model to their entire country’s young players? Who with the Blues captains their national team? Are any of them carving out a new path with young players itching to follow in their foot steps?
The answer is zero. His teammates, for club and country, call him Captain America for a reason.
Still at only 21, Pulisic is as close to being a seasoned veteran as you can be at this age. On the field, his plays shows why Chelsea paid a record fee for an American. Off the field, everyone else’s words and actions show how much of an inspiration he is and how instrumental he is to US Soccer, now and in the future.
Edited By Martell