BY STEVE BRENNER
Out of the darkness of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, a light shines.
As Bruce Arena enjoys an extended honeymoon at the start of his second coming as national team boss, there is suddenly a whirl of giddy excitement about a red hot prospect who has the potential to change the face of American soccer.
Christian Pulisic is just 18 years young, yet over the last week showed the kind of maturity and class which could transport him to the very top. While being kicked here, there and everywhere during the 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw in Panama, the American-born Borussia Dortmund midfielder didn’t lose his head.
He kept on plugging away and the assist for Clint Dempsey proved his worth. An all-action display in the preceding 6-0 routing of Honduras saw him score one and make two more.
“He’s not like a normal US player,” a source told me. “When he gets the ball, he doesn’t lose possession straight away.”
US Soccer have been desperate to have a new, rising star to hang their hat on. Pulisic is being hailed here as the new Landon Donovan – the best player since the country’s record all-time scorer burst onto the scene 17 years ago.
What sets Pulisic apart, however, is that he’s beginning to make waves in one of Europe’s strongest leagues at a club who are respected and world renowned.
Klinsmann was hammered by many paranoid MLS lovers for his insistence that in order to improve, US players need to get tested in Europe. It was, the German believed, the only way to move forward on the international stage.
In Pulisic’s case however, both schools of thought are catered for.
His grounding and development was started in the US and it was while playing for the U-15 national team in a tournament in Turkey that he first caught the eye of Dortmund scouts. The Germans were very impressed, setting the wheels in motion for a move to the former Champions League winners.
Chelsea, Porto, PSV Eindhoven and Villarreal were all keen, yet the family club ethos delivered by Dortmund paired with their track record of youth development sealed the deal.
So while Klinsmann was indeed correct for telling everyone to push the boundaries, Pulisic’s emergence is still a shot in the arm.
He’s a product of the system, and Arena was desperate to make sure everyone knew it.
“[Pulisic] was grown as a player here in the US,” Arena said. “Don’t p*** on our system, which everyone wants to do.
“He was going to be a good player wherever he went. Maybe that was exactly the perfect environment for him, you could argue that. I don’t doubt that. But when he left here, he was a good player. They [Dortmund] didn’t [invent him].”
That much is true though with more than 30 appearances for Dortmund this season (including five goals), the experience of working under manager Thomas Tuchel is utterly invaluable and vital for his progression.
Together with father Mark, Pulisic has been in Germany for the past three years and has appeared in the Champions League, memorably setting up an equaliser at the death against Real Madrid last season.
Nike have also snapped him up on a lucrative long-term deal, essential for his promotion in the US. While the likes of Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey are solid, dependable international stalwarts, they aren’t the types to get pulses racing.
Pulisic – with his pace, trickery and awareness – is different. He excites. Gets people off their seats.
Chances of reaching Russia 2018 have improved greatly since Arena’s appointment and finally there are smiles on faces.
Freddy Adu was the last American wonderkid touted to take the world by storm. He is now at the Tampa Bay Rowdies having led a torrid, nomadic existence after failing to live up to the hype.
Pulisic, however, is heading only one way.