Christian Pulisic surprised, deserving of rapid success with U.S., Dortmund
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Christian Pulisic says his meteoric rise with both Borussia Dortmund and the U.S. men's national team is a bit of a surprise, but added he knows he deserves to be where he is.
Pulisic is already the youngest non-German to score in the Bundesliga, and earlier this year became the youngest player to score for the U.S. in a World Cup qualifier. Speaking at a roundtable with reporters ahead of Friday's World Cup qualifier with rivals Mexico, Pulisic admitted his progress has exceeded even his expectations.
"If you asked me last November, where I thought I would be, I would not say, 'Right I where I am now.' Obviously I wasn't expecting it to all go so fast, with things at Dortmund and then the national team," Pulisic said. "It's not like, 'I can't believe it.' It's my dream and it just came faster than I thought it would. But I know I completely deserve to be here."
Pulisic's father, Mark, himself a former professional player, followed his son to Dortmund and has been a valuable sounding board when things get difficult. So have his coaches.
"Mentally, it can be a lot," said Pulisic about playing overseas. "I think for young players, it is tough at such a young age, dealing with the pressures and stuff like that. Luckily I've just had a lot of strong people around me who have helped me through it because I wouldn't even be close to where I am if I didn't have the support system that I do.
"I wouldn't be able to do it on my own. That's the really important part about it."
Such has been Pulisic progression that he has almost made things look easy. But he is the first to admit they have been anything but. There have been difficult moments, and some have even come far away from first team matches.
Pulisic admitted to feeling panic on occasion after being left out of a matchday squad or not performing on the pitch, which in turn leads to doubt creeping in alongside the pressure of expectation.
That's when he said he relies on those around him to remind him that he's only 18 and is still learning.
He added: "Or even if it's nothing to do with soccer. I'm just over there in Europe. My dad's been there with me, but it could be I'm just alone one day and I'm just not feeling good. I'm going to training and I'm thinking, 'Man, I want to be with my friends, home, going to school, having fun with them.' Or something like that.
"It's just talking to them, and kind of understanding that it's a process. There's definitely hard parts, but the good parts are just way too good."
Pulisic's success has led many to wonder why other American players who have gone overseas haven't had similar levels of success. There are plenty of factors of course. Coaches get fired, competition is fierce and adjusting to a new culture is difficult. It makes for a difficult jump.
"I took a sacrifice which I think is what a lot of players are afraid of," he said. "I took the step over to Europe to play at a big club at a young age. I think that's what's hard for a lot of people, moving over there. They just can't see themselves completely moving to a different country and being away from your family all the time, and friends when you're just in high school.
"Obviously I wasn't even 100 percent sure I wanted to do it, but I had people around me that said, 'I know that you can make it.' I wanted to do it, because it was always my dream to be a professional soccer player. I think it's just taking that big step is what a lot of young players are afraid to do."
Against Mexico, Pulisic will be counted on to provide a heavy dose of creativity to the U.S attack. And he'll bring the same level of confidence and fearlessness that he's shown so far for both club and country.
"I think it's just the creative side of me," he said. "I was always out playing sports in situations that didn't matter with my friends. I've always just taken that, and my dad has always taught me that you never change your game based on a situation.
"In a moment, or type of pressure, you just go out and I play like I always do. Because it's a big moment I'm not going to shy away and not show my talents. I'll show what I can do and show it every game."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.