Imagine being 19 years old and having the hopes of an entire nation on your back—nation that has no pedigree, history or superstars.
Christian Pulisic, a kid who left Hershey, Pennsylvania to go to Dortmund, Germany has had a meteoric rise that put him on the European map and makes him the biggest star the United States Men’s National Team has ever had. All of this is happening before he’s turned 20 years old.
Now regardless of all of this, I can’t say I would give Pulisic a break. Why would I? Was Messi ever given a chance? Was Ronaldo with Portugal? Rooney? No, they weren’t, and Pulisic is essentially the same. If you are good enough, you are good enough.
He lacks experience, that’s true. It’s also true that he was never asked to be put in this place. But when the World Cup dreams of your country rest on your feet, there is no margin for error, and you need to take that place you were thrown into.
Pulisic had to grow up quickly, and he did just that. He eased the team’s worry of not qualifying for Russia 2018 by putting on a masterclass performance against Panama Friday night. This is by far and away a better and more mature Pulisic than the one that showed up in United States disappointments against Costa Rica and Honduras earlier this year.
Stefan Beckownski, a reporter who follows Dortmund for ESPN, wrote on Twitter that the Costa Rica game was the worst game Pulisic had played in about a year and half.
What a moment to have the worst game in a long time. It happened, it complicated things and it put the U.S. in genuine fear of missing out on the World Cup.
Pulisic didn’t dwell on it though; he moved on and went back to Dortmund and played as well as he could. He didn’t let that poor performance and bad result take anything from him. That’s maturity. That’s how you are supposed to behave at this level.
On Friday night, he scored a goal and gave an assist en route to the 4-0 victory that gave the United States a 97 percent chance to qualify for the World Cup, according to ESPN SPI.
It seems as though Pulisic will be better than Landon Donovan. Pulisic could very well be the biggest name in soccer this country has ever seen. He has so much left to do, so much left to improve on, so much to learn.
However, let’s remember, soccer is not a one-man band. Ask Messi with Argentina – what good is it to be considered the best player in the world when your national team doesn’t have chemistry? They wait for you to do everything.
It’s not good at all when your team completely relies on you. It hurts you and makes an entire country put the blame on you. So for his sake and for the sake of this team, I hope Bruce Arena has the capacity to protect him and build a team around him. It will take time. The United States won’t emerge as a soccer power nation by next summer, but hopefully kids watching Pulisic take the nation – and the world – by storm are inspired to play soccer.
Pulisic might have been forced to grow faster than most teenagers in a lot of senses—moving to a different country, being the best player for the United States at 18 or 19 years old. But at that game with Panama, he became a man. And he became the man the United States needed.
Daniela Marulanda is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.