Pulisic talks about life with the U.S. and Dortmund ... and being a Belieber
ATLANTIC BEACH, Florida -- Christian Pulisic might not play like a 17-year-old, but in many ways he's still a typical teenager.
The United States and Borussia Dortmund midfielder sat down for an exclusive interview with ESPN FC on Monday afternoon at the national team's hotel and, while he's clearly mature beyond his years -- a natural consequence of moving nearly 4,000 miles from Pennsylvania to join the German powerhouse two years ago and then being thrust into the international spotlight after breaking into Dortmund's first team earlier this year -- Pulisic says he likes listening to Justin Bieber and hanging out with his high school friends. He's looking forward to his 18th birthday on Sept. 18 and is still hoping to score tickets to see Bieber perform in Cologne that night.
But before heading back across the Atlantic Ocean to the apartment he shares with his father and his cousin Will -- the former U.S. under-17 goalkeeper, who recently joined Dortmund's youth ranks -- he has one more game to play. Though he might not start in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago, Pulisic's future for club and country appears limitless.
NOTE: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
ESPN FC: After playing with the U.S. at the Copa America Centenario, you had a few weeks off. How did you spend that time?
Pulisic: I spent most of it back in Hershey, [Pennsylvania]. I still stay in close touch with all my friends there. It was good to see them.
How have things changed since last summer? Did you notice any difference in the way they or others treated you?
It changed a lot. In my hometown, people I didn't even know started to recognize me: "Oh, you're that kid that's doing well over there in Europe and with the national team!" Of course my friends tease me and stuff, but I just try to act like nothing's changed at all.
Was it hard to do that?
It can be at times. I feel like people put pressure on me and that makes me put pressure on myself, which isn't needed.
Like most athletes, I'm sure you put plenty of pressure on yourself as it is.
I've always expected a lot out of myself, and it can be a good quality. But it can be bad at times too. I try to talk to people that I'm close to, people that have guided me through. I've gotten good advice. That's how I do it.
What's the best advice you've gotten?
Nothing specific. It's more just realizing that soccer is a game. It's not everything in life. It's a sport. I enjoy it but I don't need to take it so seriously at times.
Who has mentored you along the way?
In Germany, [Turkish international midfielder] Nuri Sahin. He went through something similar at a very young age playing in Bundesliga.
What about with the U.S.? Geoff Cameron said Sunday that he and Alejandro Bedoya have sort of taken you under their wings.
Yeah, him and Bedoya have really helped me out. They've been really cool with me.
Have the older guys messed with you at all? Made you sing in front of the team or anything like that?
Geoff has pulled a few pranks on me, just dumb stuff in the hotel. Nothing too crazy.
One time, he leaned a trash can filled with water against my door and knocked. Covered my whole room with water, which was annoying.
Have you returned the favor yet?
I haven't. He told me if I give it back to him I'm in trouble.
Do you believe him?
Who are you tight with on the U.S. squad?
I'm very close with a lot of the young guys -- Ethan Horvath, Kellyn Acosta, Rubio Rubin. I think that's normal.
How comfortable are you with the veterans at this point?
I feel comfortable with everybody. I can go up and talk to anybody. I think it's normal that you stay with your closer friends or guys closer to your own age, but yeah, I'm definitely comfortable now.
How much did the five weeks you spent with the national team during the Copa America help with that?
That was really important. Now I feel just much more confident, much more a part of the team, being with them for such a long period and really getting to know guys day in and day out.
What was the Copa experience like overall?
It was incredible to be part of a team that maybe wasn't expected to do so much at that tournament and ended up getting to a semifinal. I was really proud. It was awesome. We were together a long time, got to travel all over the country. A Copa America in your own country could be once in a lifetime, so it was pretty amazing.
I'm sure you wanted to play more. How do you balance understanding that you're a young guy and maybe feeling that you could contribute more?
I've been asked this a lot. I think every player on the roster wants to be out on the field as much as he can. I think that's normal. Right now, I'm happy just being a part of the team. I understand that the coaches want to develop me and get more and more experiences slowly. I understand that. I'm just happy to be here. It's not a matter of how many minutes I'm getting.
There's a well-worn saying: "If you're good enough, you're old enough." A few weeks back, U.S. assistant coach Tab Ramos said your age was the only reason you didn't play more. At what point do you stop being satisfied with just being here?
I've said it. I'm sick of people saying, "He's only 17." It doesn't really matter to me. I feel like I can make an impact. That's it.
You got your first taste of an away World Cup qualifier last week. What was that like?
I played in Honduras with the under-17s, but I really didn't know what to expect. That's the thing with CONCACAF. People talk about it, but you have no idea what it's like until you're there. It was difficult. Obviously it's not always the best conditions, but I think we did a really great job [vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines]. The team looked strong and we took care of business.
You took care of business, too, scoring two goals. When you come into that match, how much are you thinking that if you play well, it could lead to a bigger role?
I just focus on the game, on winning the game. Obviously I like to have a good performance and you want to impress people. But I just focus on myself and how I'm playing.
Do you think those goals could help when you go back to Dortmund?
They hear about it, but I don't think it really affects if I'm going to play there or not. But I'm really excited to be with Dortmund. It's a huge club with a lot of good players, so I'm just fighting for my position in the team when I'm there. And when I come here, I'm fighting for my position here. That's kind of how I look at it.
How do you see yourself fitting in at Dortmund this season?
Just like I did last season. I mean, I'm still young, whatever, I don't have as much experience as a lot of players on the team. But just getting my minutes and working hard every day in training and becoming a normal member of the team is the goal.
What was your reaction when the club signed so many attacking players this summer?
I don't look at those guys any differently than I do any other player because of what they have accomplished already, and I don't think the coach [Thomas Tuchel] does either. I think he's just looking at every day in training and how we're performing at the moment.
More competition for spots, though.
Of course. There are a lot of great players coming in in similar positions.
Your father said you had no intention of leaving Dortmund. But there were still lots of rumors suggesting you might be sold or go on loan. Did you ever think you might end up somewhere else?
I hear about it. I have social media. Obviously I'm not completely closed to the world. But I don't let it affect me or how I'm playing at the time. The whole time throughout, I was just focused on training every day.
You let your representatives handle that stuff, then?
Yeah, that's how it works.
What have you learned over the last year?
Everything. I've learned what it takes to be a professional every single day. There's no taking breaks or a time when you can just relax in training or anything like that. If you want to be at the highest level, then you have to really work hard every day. I've earned it. I think that's why I've come so far.
Who's influenced you as player? You've spoken about Luis Figo before. Anyone else?
I was a big Manchester United fan when I was younger, so I loved to watch Wayne Rooney. I wouldn't say I'm a similar player, though. I think his passion for the game is something you don't see much in players. That's what I loved about him.
You turn 18 in a couple of weeks. Any birthday plans?
I'm still working on those Justin Bieber concert tickets. Other than that, it's my normal training schedule.
You tweeted at him about it, right?
It was a joke a little bit, but yeah. I wasn't expecting him to follow me or anything.
Do your teammates give you a hard time about being a Belieber?
(Laughs) I guess. But everyone likes Bieber, I think.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.