It’s time that you learned Christian Pulisic’s name, if you don’t know it already. (It’s pronounced “pah-LIS-ick,” for one.) He’s 17 years old, he was the U.S. national team’s standout player in consecutive World Cup qualifiers last week, and his inclusion in the starting lineup for last Tuesday’s qualifier was in many ways his official anointing with that most pressure-filled of titles: American Soccer’s Next Big Thing.
For decades, American soccer has always had one young player on the verge of becoming the first worldwide stateside superstar. Some turned themselves into solid players and national team standouts, such as Claudio Reyna and John Harkes. Some couldn’t stay healthy, such as John O’Brien, maybe the most gifted American player ever. Some are cautionary tales — Freddy Adu, who earned too much fame too soon, or Jamar Beasley, whose off-the-field problems curtailed his on-field future.
The best comparison for Pulisic, though, might be Landon Donovan — heady company, given that Donovan is the best player in United States history. Like Donovan, Pulisic is a diminutive attacking midfielder, with prodigious creative skills and a sweet finishing touch, who burst into prominence at the age of 17. Donovan could be counted on not only to score goals but to draw defenders to him and then set up his teammates in the resulting open space. Tuesday against Trinidad and Tobago, Pulisic repeatedly started breakouts and ripped apart the defense, earning universal raves for a dominating performance. Wearing the same No. 10 that Donovan used to wear, it was impossible not to see the parallels between the two — even before Donovan decided to come out of retirement this week to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy, in the same week of Pulisic’s breakout games.
In a way, though, Pulisic is set up to perhaps realize the destiny that his predecessor was unwilling to fulfill. Pulisic plays for Borussia Dortmund, Germany’s second-best team behind Bayern Munich, and is getting regular minutes off the bench for a club that’s in the Champions League this season. Donovan, meanwhile, moved to Bayer Leverkeusen at the same age but never could settle in Germany. He had two stints with Bayer cut short, had a couple of successful loan spells with Everton in England, and otherwise concentrated on staying home and setting every Major League Soccer record. He’s the best player in American history and the MLS MVP trophy is deservedly named for him, but American fans couldn’t help but wonder what he might have become if he had played more competitive games in Europe, instead of hanging out in California in a less challenging league.
Of all the Next Big Things, Donovan was by far the most successful. Now, though, the U.S. has Pulisic, born and bred in Pennsylvania but honing his game in Dortmund. Right now, anything seems possible, including realizing the worldwide-superstar future that Donovan never managed.
• According to Forbes, the average Major League Soccer team is now worth $185 million — a 400 percent increase since just 2008. Seattle, worth $285 million, leads the league; Colorado, at $110 million, brings up the rear. To compare, that would make Seattle worth more than seven NHL teams.
• Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid both suffered hits in their attempts to dethrone Barcelona at the top of La Liga this week. FIFA ruled both had violated transfer rules, and as punishment neither will be able to buy new players until the winter of 2017. To be fair, though, Barcelona ran afoul of the same rule and received the same punishment — and it didn’t stop Barca from winning La Liga the past two seasons.
• Minnesota native Jackson Yueill, now playing for UCLA, was the orchestrator of an NCAA record last week. Yueill assisted on four goals in a 6-1 win over powerhouse Akron – three of which came in the span of just 32 seconds, smashing the mark for the fastest three goals by 11 seconds.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Premier League: Manchester City at Manchester United, 6:30 a.m. Saturday, NBCSN. City-United always feels like a battle, but when you throw in both teams’ perfect starts, and new managers/hated rivals Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola meeting in England for the first time, this match feels positively gladiatorial. This game could help decide the title.
Bundesliga: Hamburg at Bayer Leverkeusen, 9 a.m. Saturday, FS1. Bayer Leverkeusen is hoping for Mexican star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to return this week, after an accident at home kept him out of its opening-game loss. Meanwhile, American striker Bobby Wood provided Hamburg’s goal in its opening-week draw. It’s U.S.-Mexico, in Germany!
Premier League: Leicester City at Liverpool, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, NBCSN. While some of England’s other title contenders have gotten off to flying starts, both Leicester City and Liverpool have started slowly, earning four points each from three games. This early, it’s no great concern, but both teams have to know that four points from every three matches isn’t good enough for a title.
Liga MX: América at Cruz Azul, 5 p.m. Saturday, Univision Deportes. Before the two-week international break, América suffered a 3-0 loss at home to Chivas in a rivalry game, and now it visits its crosstown rivals hoping to avoid a similar fate. Cruz Azul badly needs a win to climb back into playoff contention; La Maquina has five draws in seven games this fall.