This isn’t an American problem. It’s a big club problem.
There’s long been a perceived bias against Americans in Europe. They wait longer for shorter leashes, the thinking goes, and it’s frequently difficult to determine how their time at a given club impacts the general perception once it’s over.
True or not, there’s no denying Christian Pulisic and this current generation of Americans, scattered across several of Europe’s biggest clubs, are raising the nation’s footballing profile. Pulisic in particular is uniquely positioned to succeed, with the manager who handed him his shot at Borussia Dortmund years ago, Thomas Tuchel, now in charge at Chelsea.
Pulisic scored Saturday in Chelsea’s Premier League-opening 3-0 win against Crystal Palace. The United States star, who turns 23 in September, chased the play in expert fashion and followed up a parry by Palace keeper Vicente Guaita to double Chelsea’s lead shortly before halftime:
It’s Pulisic’s 18th competitive goal for Chelsea, and he now has 14 goals and six assists in 53 Premier League appearances. To snapshot his analytical value, he ranked at or near the 90th percentile in the league last season in progressive carries (dribbles the move the ball at least 5 years toward the opposing goal); long pass completions (over 30 yards); dribbles attempted; passes into the penalty area; and successful pressures. He also ranked near the 75th percentile in expected goals and non-penalty expected goals.
In short, he fires the attack forward and creates danger for opposing defenses.
Pulisic almost singlehandedly kept Chelsea in the top four two summers ago after the coronavirus restart. He’s scored big goals in the Champions League, too.
And he’s hardly guaranteed to start again anytime soon.
That’s not a Pulisic problem. It’s a Chelsea problem.
The Blues are one of a handful of clubs whose rampageous capitalism is separating them financially from the rest of the planet, so there’s a treasure trove of talent that plays Pulisic’s positions. Kai Havertz, Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech are all threats to Pulisic’s first-choice chances, as is the recent re-arrival of striker Romelu Lukaku, whose skill set could shift what Tuchel wants to do with his formations.
Pulisic got the start ahead of the Champions League final hero Havertz, who played all 120 minutes of the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday. Ziyech also started that game and scored a goal before coming off with a shoulder injury, which knocked him out of the matchday squad for Saturday.
So playing time is tenuous. That’s life at a big club. The only bias is against lack of production.
Pulisic is no stranger to this. There were howls he wasn’t getting a fair shake only weeks into his Chelsea career. (He was.) He responded by making himself undroppable by the end of the season.
Given the coveted No. 10 shirt heading into last campaign, Pulisic missed two months with a hamstring injury before he finally returned. He played his way back into regular appearances once again.
That pressure, week in and week out, is already forging benefits for the U.S. men’s national team. Pulisic captained the USMNT to the first-ever CONCACAF Nations League title in June, converting the winning penalty in extra time. He’s been the program’s best player for years now. His status there is sealed.
Now he’s back at Chelsea, where he isn’t guaranteed anything. But when in form Pulisic is a major threat, and if he’s poaching goals like he did against Palace, finding ways into dangerous areas when other stuff isn’t quite working, it’s a good indicator he is.
Chelsea will play Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal in the league before the end of September, and open defense of its Champions League title in a month, too. Plenty of marquee opportunities for Pulisic to continue to prove himself.
Plenty of chances to get bolted to the bench, too. C’est la guerre.
Christian Pulisic is an American star fighting to keep his place at one of the world’s best clubs. That’s a challenge you want. That’s a career you crave.
This isn’t a bad problem. It’s a good problem. One of the best you can have.
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