Dortmund's Christian Pulisic

If you ask any teenage soccer player what they want to do when they grow up, chances are they’re going to say professional soccer player. For one American 17-year-old, that dream is quickly becoming a reality in Germany. Pennsylvania native Christian Pulisic made his professional debut for German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund last month, and has now become a key talking point within the U.S. fan base.

Just over three years ago, the Hershey, PA native was still playing for his local club team the PA Classics. After impressing U.S. National Team scouts, Pulisic found himself playing in national team’s U-17 residency program. During his tenure with the program, Pulisic quickly impressed his coaches and was eventually noticed by Dortmund scouts at the Nike Friendlies in 2013.

After more than a year with the U-17 squad, Pulisic finally made the big move to join Dortmund’s youth teams in February 2015. In didn’t take long for the midfielder to once again impress his coaches as he progressed onto the U-19 squad shortly after joining the club. His bright performance with both the U-17 and U-19 teams earned him a spot with the first team for pre-season training leading up to the 2015/16 campaign.

Despite not making a single appearance for the first team during the first half of the season, Pulisic was again invited to another training camp in Dubai over the winter break. During this camp, the teenager managed to score two goals against Korean club Jeonbuk and German second division side Union Berlin.

Less than a week after the winter camp, Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel handed the young American his debut as a substitute against FC Ingolstadt. The next match against Hertha Berlin, Pulisic made his second ever appearance for the club, again coming on as a substitute.

Anytime a 17-year-old steps on the field for a club like Borussia Dortmund, it’s going to make some waves. The fact that Pulisic is an American makes it even more enticing for fans over here on the other side of the pond. While all of this excitement and attention can be good, U.S. fans, myself included, have a tendency to over-hype and put too much pressure on these promising young players.

The best, and probably most used, example has to be the curious case of Freddy Adu. Everyone knows his story: 14-year-old makes debut in MLS, hailed as the “hero” needed to take U.S. soccer to the next level, proceeds to disappoint at almost every other club he suits up for after D.C. United. I think the biggest problem that plagued Adu’s career had to be the instant pressure and reputation that was given to him just for stepping on the field at such a young age.

From the start, people expected him to excite crowds and be a world-class player despite having virtually no real experience. Imagine being in seventh grade and being told by every person on the street that you’re going to be a star. Chances are that’s going to inflate your ego over time, and when you’re not living up to this billing you’re only going to put more pressure on yourself. This vicious cycle saw Adu move to 13 clubs in just 11 years.

A less talked about example of too much pressure at a young age is Juan Agudelo. The New England Revolution striker has found his niche in the Northeast, but a good MLS career isn’t exactly what fans were expecting from him after scoring on his national team debut. A disappointing move to Stoke City in 2014 saw work-permit issues prevent him from even making an appearance for the Potters, while a loan stint at FC Utrecht resulted in just three goals from 14 appearances.

Granted, Agudelo is still just 23 and a bright career could still be ahead of him. However, I have to believe that had he not been faced with such high expectations as a teenager, he would be in a better position at this point in his career.

A big factor that should help Pulisic avoid this type of exposure and expectations is the difference between Dortmund’s setup and that of any MLS franchise (no offense). While a player of Pulisic’s caliber would most likely be a week-to-week starter stateside, and arguably one of the team’s star players, in Germany he can be slowly eased into the first team.

With players like Adrian Ramos, Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ahead of him, there’s no pressure on Tuchel to throw Pulisic into the spotlight unless it’s necessary. Tuchel’s management of Pulisic should avoid the dreaded “burn out” that seems to happen to young stars playing stateside.

As much as the club environment and playing time can affect a player’s development, it’s also important that the player makes the right decisions on and off the pitch. How Pulsic handles himself as a professional in the public setting will be a major determinant in deciding how his bright career develops. Right now, it looks like he has the right hard-working attitude to succeed, and hopefully for U.S. fans he keeps his feet on the ground and nose to the grindstone.


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