The embarrassment of the United States men’s national team missing the 2018 World Cup had several layers. One of the most understated at the time, and one that luckily has been forgotten about over time for fans of the Stars and Stripes, is how the adorned future of American soccer would always be attached to the country’s biggest failure. Christian Pulisic was on the field during that horrible night in Port of Spain. He was 19 then and would’ve played in a World Cup before he was legally able to buy a drink in his hometown of Hershey, Pa.
Pulisic was on the doorstep of the World Cup four years ago as a youngster for Borussia Dortmund. He’s now at Chelsea as a 24-year-old fighting for playing time at one of the world’s biggest clubs. That competition has led to fleeting time on the pitch, but any time Captain America gets is invaluable. The face of United States soccer gets to play on the biggest stage in the sport for the first time starting Monday against Wales.
It’ll be a shocker to see Pulisic not play every meaningful second the United States is on the field in Qatar. He’s a game-changer unlike any other in American history. Landon Donovan was a world-class player, Clint Dempsey was tenacious, and Tim Howard could change any game by not letting a ball by him. None of them possessed the momentum-flipping ability of Pulisic. With the potential he’s shown, the game-changing tendencies of others around him are undervalued. Who knows what Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie, Brenden Aaronson, or Tim Weah could do as the focal point of the USMNT? It doesn’t matter. The team is in Pulisic’s hands until he’s proven he’s not capable of being in the driver’s seat.
The attacking midfielder isn’t a true striker, but has his eye for goal like he’s any team’s primary scorer. His passing ability is sublime for someone that is shoot-first. Pulisic can truly do it all, which is only argued by those who undervalue him just because he’s an American. It’s fair to question why we don’t see CP10 at his top form more often. It isn’t up for debate how sky-high his potential is. For my money, he’s the second-best player in Group B behind England’s Harry Kane. The American real-life superhero is better than anyone he’ll match up against from Wales or Iran.
“We’re so thankful for any type of support that we can get back home,” Pulisic said from Qatar after being recognized as the face of American soccer this week. “The World Cup is something so special for us and I feel like the No. 1 thing that Americans will watch when it comes to soccer. So we’re really excited and we’re thankful for any type of support we can get. We’re going to give everything we have and hope to make everyone back home proud.”
Pulisic’s place atop American soccer is secure for now, only in danger when someone of equal ability steps in. Even with a rich developmental system, that’s not going to happen until after the North American-hosted World Cup in 2026 at the very earliest. When it comes to firsts, Pulisic’s reach in the world of soccer has already improved the reputation of Americans. He became the first American to score in a UEFA Champions League semifinal, doing so against Real Madrid in April 2021. He was the first USMNTer to play and win the UCL in the same season. His $73 million transfer from Dortmund to Chelsea in 2019 was the most expensive move for a North American player in history.
His rich pedigree comes without playing a game at the World Cup. Pulisic still has a heavy majority of his career ahead of him, but without testing his invaluable past to better the future of American soccer, a lot of it will have been for naught. Patrick Mahomes can prove that he’s one of the best quarterbacks of all time. But without the pressure of both Super Bowl appearances, how much does his early legacy toward GOAT status suffer? My guess is it would be a lot. That’s the seal that gets broken on Monday. Pulisic will finally get on the field at a World Cup five years after that night in Trinidad and Tobago. You bet he’s been thinking about it since and will take advantage.