CHESTER, Pa. — It is easy to forget that Christian Pulisic is still a teenager. And not just because the U.S. men’s national team has relied on him with Messi-esque dependence for a year now. Not just because he logged more Bundesliga minutes than all but one other Borussia Dortmund outfield player this past season.
Pulisic is a star. A bona fide star in every sense of the word. And his delayed return to the national team fold might be the best evidence yet.
For the first time since Oct. 9, the 19-year-old attacker trained with the U.S. on Friday in Philadelphia. Two days later, he sat on a podium in Chester, his only media availability before Monday’s friendly against Bolivia, his first game with the Yanks since Trinidad. And like most stars, he’s already an expert at speaking without really saying much.
“I love playing for the national team,” Pulisic said Sunday. “So I love being here as much as I can.”
Pulisic stayed in Dortmund rather than partaking in two previous camps, one in November in Portugal, the other stateside in March. Those were decisions made after discussions with U.S. interim manager Dave Sarachan, their purpose to manage Pulisic’s workload – both mental and physical.
“Obviously I had a season to finish up,” Pulisic said. “It’s not like I didn’t want to go to the past few games. I have a good relationship with Dave, we discuss, and decide what’s best for me.
“I love coming in to national team camps, I love to be here when I can,” he later continued. “But … I have to make the right decisions, and keep myself fresh.”
Pulisic was the last of 22 players to arrive in Philadelphia. His arrival was delayed three days, first by a moneymaking, brand-building club friendly between his Dortmund side and LAFC in Los Angeles, then by various other responsibilities, including one with a sponsor in New York.
And while he was in L.A., he got the star treatment, just as he’ll likely get so often over the next decade. With cameras rolling and flashing, he juggled and played basketball with Steve Nash. He received a gift from LeBron James – game-worn shoes. When asked Sunday what he’d do with them, he cracked a smile for the first and only time throughout the press conference.
“Well I’m not wearing ‘em,” he joked, referencing their size, and eliciting laughs from the room.
“It’s cool to me,” Pulisic said of the gift. “[LeBron] is a big inspiration of mine. So I was pretty excited.”
He was flooded by autograph-seeking kids in Los Angeles as well, after a training session at UCLA. He gave various interviews while with Dortmund, and again in New York on Thursday. He was all interviewed out by the time he got to Philly, and was thus relieved of pre-training media responsibilities on Friday and Saturday. He was the only of the 22 players who did not have to walk through a “mixed zone” for additional interviews on Sunday.
And you get the sense that he is ready for his longest professional season yet to be over. For summer to be here. For a bit of down time. His enthusiasm while answering questions, and even during a 5-v-2 game at the beginning of training, was minimal. He almost seemed a bit drained.
“I feel like it’s the end of my season,” he admitted. “My legs are tired.” He lagged ever so slightly behind the group for much of a five-minute dynamic warmup on Sunday.
“But it’s normal,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can to keep myself fresh, and I’m definitely going to be ready for [the game against Bolivia] tomorrow.”
Whether he travels to Europe for U.S. friendlies against Ireland and France or not, he’ll soon be able to wind down. He’ll soon have some long-awaited time with family, away from the spotlight, before preseason training starts up again with Dortmund. He got some of that family time in L.A.
But even if he is able to escape all the attention that comes with his stardom, his name won’t be able to. It’ll swirl in transfer rumors all summer. Liverpool and Manchester United are among the teams linked. Whether there is any substance to the links is another story.
Either way, they’re a function of his rapid rise. They’re a function of his ability, but also of the size of the U.S. market, and the commercial potential that comes with it. Pulisic, at 19, already feels like the first global American soccer superstar.
[Schaerlaeckens: What Pulisic lost when U.S. missed World Cup]
He’ll soon have an opportunity to rest up and recharge. He’ll have the opportunity to, ever so briefly, be a normal American teenager.
“America will always seem like home to me,” he said Sunday. “As much as I love Dortmund, Dortmund’s nice, I love being in Europe, but there’s always home, and here is always home.”
But soon enough, the spotlight will find him again. Pulisic is too good, at too young an age, to evade it.
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