Tomase: Christian Pulisic just made soccer history and here's why you should care

John Tomase
January 03, 2019 - 12:45 pm
Christian Pulisic

Mike DiNovo/USA Today Sports

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You might not know the name because the United States committed the unpardonable sin of failing to qualify for last summer's World Cup, but Christian Pulisic just cemented his status as the face and future of American soccer.

The 20-year-old midfielder from Pennsylvania broke barriers as a teenager when he joined perennial power Borussia Dortmund of the German Bundesliga in 2016, but his profile is about to rise exponentially after a record-setting transfer to the English Premier League.

On Wednesday, six-time champion Chelsea agreed to a $73 million transfer that will bring Pulisic to the UK. Not only is it the most money ever spent on an American player, it practically matches the combined total of the next 10; John Brooks set the previous mark with a $22.5 million transfer to Wolfsburg in 2017.

So why should you care? Because for the first time ever, an American field player has a chance to star in England as a foundational piece of a signature franchise. While Americans like Tim Howard and Brad Friedel made careers in the Premier League as goalkeepers, even the best U.S. forwards and midfielders have played little more than supporting roles there, and typically for middle-of-the-pack clubs like Fulham (Clint Dempsey) or Manchester City (Claudio Reyna).

Chelsea is an entirely different beast. It has won five league championships since 2004, and it claimed a UEFA Champions League title in 2012. It's one of the most valuable franchises in the world, worth nearly $2 billion according to Forbes, and players who star there become household names across Europe.

No American player has ever faced that kind of pressure, but Pulisic is relatively battle-tested for a  20-year-old. Though he lost his starting role at Dortmund this year, he has already established himself as a world-class talent. He became one of the youngest foreign-born players to score a goal in the Bundesliga when he tallied his first strike at age 17. He has since appeared in more than 80 games and scored 10 goals.

Pulisic is exactly the kind of player the U.S. has hoped to produce since reaching the 1990 World Cup. He's an attacking midfielder with the ability to run directly at a defender, he's dangerous in space, and he's a clever finisher. Though the last two years have seen Pulicic's development hit a speedbump, Chelsea is paying for his potential. He's easily the best chance the U.S. has ever had at developing a world-class superstar.

Soccer's ability to escape niche status here depends on the emergence of international standouts. Chelsea just ensured that Pulisic will get that chance. Nothing is guaranteed, and expensive transfers flame out all the time, but no American has ever been more prepared for his opportunity at such a young age.

If Pulisic can become a household name in Europe, maybe we'll eventually learn his name back home, too.