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Christian Pulisic Belongs

Photo: Michael Regan (Getty)

Former Wonderteen Christian Pulisic has been a very good soccer player at close to the highest level in the world for three-and-a-half seasons, playing admirably in huge games against Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and other top-tier clubs. He is no longer a prospect, and he hasn’t been one for years.

And yet, because he is treading so far out into as-yet untested waters for an American field player, his move to Chelsea—where he is functionally the only new signing of a club with immense pressure to perform—brought with it a fresh wave of worries about whether or not Pulisic belongs.

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This sort of worry is familiar for American soccer fans. The history of American players on huge clubs is short and littered with prospects who found or will probably soon find lower ceilings. Landon Donovan famously never stuck anywhere in Europe, Clint Dempsey had one decent year at Tottenham, and the current stable of kids, one that features Matt Miazga, Gedion Zelalem, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, and Timothy Weah, is loaded with intriguing young guys who have yet to prove themselves. Also, DeAndre Yedlin played a total of one league game for Tottenham.

Pulisic has always defied those trends, both in his performances and in his stature in Europe as a legit blue-chipper. But sticking at one of the biggest clubs in the biggest league in the world is different than shining at Dortmund, and as good as Pulisic is, I worried, as a fan, that he would somehow turn back into a pumpkin when he took the field. There is not a precedent in American soccer history to suggest otherwise.

Instead, he has looked just as vital as he did in Germany. Chelsea’s season is only now just underway, and Frank Lampard has coached all of two competitive games (both losses), but Pulisic has shown, at the bare minimum, that he belongs at this level. The future is especially unknowable at a club like Chelsea; the present, for Pulisic at least, is as entertaining and bright as it was in Germany.

Today, Pulisic made his first start for a full-strength Chelsea against a full-strength Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup. He played damn well! Pulisic was slotted out on the left, where he quickly showed that his pace is going to be a problem for Premier League defenders. He assisted on the opening goal of the game after collecting just ahead of midfield and driving through four defenders to find Olivier Giroud.

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Shortly afterwards, he outfoxed two defenders and the keeper to score with a wonderful inside finish, only for it to be waved back for offsides.

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These two plays don’t mean he’ll win the golden boot or drive Chelsea to a league title or whatever, but they are two very good pieces of evidence—along with a general liveliness and a nice little budding partnership with N’Golo Kante—that he is belongs here, at Chelsea, against the world’s best, and it feels great.

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