Christian Pulisic Is Forging His Own Path as the New Face of US Soccer

Bleacher Report StaffFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2018

CHESTER, PA - MAY 28: Christian Pulisic #10 of the United States warms up prior to the friendly soccer match against Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium on May 28, 2018 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Christian Pulisic would rather be playing than talking. He's been doing interviews like this one for days; there's a weariness as he speaks.

But he powers on because he's a professional now, a budding superstar, and these are the responsibilities that accompany the fresh face of American soccer.

"The question everyone wants to know: 'How is it being the face?' 'How do you deal with that?'" Pulisic told B/R. "There's no straight answer to it because I'm still learning. I haven't done this stuff before.

"I'm just trying to forge my own path and be true to myself."

The 19-year-old's path to this point is his own—an unparalleled rise for an American soccer star. From Hershey, Penn., to Champions League appearances for German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund, he's stepping into the leadership role his path has led to.

That meteoric rise is in large part the result of careful planning and a unique upbringing. At a young age, Pulisic's parents didn't overwork him. In fact, they limited the time he was allowed to train, encouraging him to have fun and train in his own way.

"We never put him in a structured environment," Mark Pulisic said of his son's upbringing. "He had two practices a week—one game a week."

Christian added: "I always had the ball at my feet. I didn't get here by just going to training every day."

That development as a kid led to legit attention from Europe's best clubs as a teenager. At 16, he signed with Dortmund over a handful of other suitors—he trialed with FC Barcelona—because Dortmund had what the family felt was a good track record of giving teenagers chances.

Christian made his debut for the senior U.S. men's national team as a 17-year-old, and soon enough he was its best player, setting all sorts of records—youngest this, youngest that. Now speculation persists that Pulisic will be sold to Premier League powerhouse Manchester United or Liverpool for some obscene sum of money, as reported here by the Daily Mirror.

Quite the path for a 5'8", soft-spoken kid from Hershey. A path that's his own. And a path that, Christian believes, can help guide the future of American soccer at a time when the country needs direction the most.

"We need to become a soccer nation," he said. "Our next step is to continue to develop the next generation of soccer players."

CHESTER, PA - MAY 28: Josh Sargent #13 of the United States celebrates after scoring a goal along with Eric Lichaj #15, Tim Weah #11, Joe Corona #8, Christian Pulisic #10, and Rubio Rubin #23 during the friendly soccer match against Bolivia at Talen Energ
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Speaking as an authority on this subject is still new to Christian. He is, by his own admission, not exactly an extrovert. He's sensitive about sounding like he has all the answers. But he pushes through the pressure and the responsibility, in service of what he feels is best for his sport and his country.

"I'm not a guy who wants to show off everything and be seen everywhere," he said. "I like my peace. That's just how I am."

But don't confuse his introversion with timidity.

"There are always going to be bumps in the road, but I'm never going to back down," he said. "We have a ton of soccer talent in this country, and we can take on anybody."

He embraces being the lead-by-example type. At a recent B/R video shoot, he was far more comfortable when performing juggling tricks than performing voiceover. He was smiling and joking when playing pick-up with some local college kids. His technique and creativity were clear even when dribbling the soccer ball down the sidewalk.

"When I was growing up, I was always touching the ball," he said.

Again, he'd rather be playing than talking. That's his advice to youth players in America: Just get a ball on your feet.

"Before and after practice. In the yard. Everywhere—just getting touches," he said.

Asked about where he'll play next season, or his long-term goals, Pulisic snaps back to soccer-speak. He's excited to talk about the next generation of soccer players—getting kids outside, touching the ball, getting creative—but not so excited to answer the same old questions from journalists about his future.

"I'm just focused on what I'm doing. I have a contract with Dortmund right now."

"I'm looking forward to the next season and just improving as a player, as a team."

We wrapped up our interview 10 minutes earlier than the time allotted. Pulisic was grateful.

He's got more interviews to do. He has to keep delivering the message.

Those are the responsibilities when you're the fresh face of American soccer.

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