With the World Cup in full swing, USA TODAY High School Sports is taking a closer look at the next generation of U.S. soccer. Today we feature midfielder Christian Pulisic, a key member of the U.S. U-17 National Team that is currently riding an 11-game unbeaten streak.
Position: Attacking midfielder
The U.S. U-17 National Team has been on a roll the past eight months, and Pulisic’s playmaking from the midfield has been key. The team has gone 9-1-2 since December of 2013, winning three consecutive international tournaments and dispatching the likes of Brazil, France and England in the process. With seven goals and four assists, Pulisic has had a direct hand in 11 of the team’s 32 goals in that span. After recently finishing a year at the U.S. Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., Pulisic is eyeing a move to Germany this summer where he’ll train with a professional team while finishing high school.
Why he could be World Cup bound: Because he displays a skill set rarely seen in a red, white and blue uniform. The U.S. has produced its fair share of hard-working, box-to-box center midfielders who shine defensively and are adequate going forward. But Pulisic is more of a pure attacker with uncanny vision and the technique to turn that vision into scoring chances. Mix in a gifted playmaker like Pulisic with the world-class athletes the U.S. will always churn out and the team could make the leap beyond its current status as perpetual World Cup underdogs.
Plays like: Eden Hazard. It’s no coincidence Hazard and Pulisic both wear the No. 10 jersey. While it doesn’t always hold true, No. 10 is typically reserved for a team’s most skilled attacking player who links the midfield with the forwards. Hazard is one of the game’s best in that role today, doing so for Chelsea in the English Premier League and for Belgium in international competitions. No player created more chances in the EPL than Hazard’s 92 last season, and he’s the main reason Belgium are considered a dark horse to reach their first-ever World Cup final. Whether it’s a big shot, a pinpoint pass or a subtle juke to create just enough space, Hazard and Pulisic can do it all.
American role model: Landon Donovan. The most famous American No. 10, Donovan’s unique playmaking ability has made him the most prolific scorer in both MLS and National Team history. Like Donovan, Pulisic is creative, lethal and fearless on the attack. With Pulisic likely on the move to Germany, he and Donovan share another connection. Donovan signed with Bayern Leverkusen at 16 years old and made 28 appearances for their reserve team and seven for the senior team before signing with his current club, the L.A. Galaxy.
Key number: 4. Elite European clubs Pulisic has trained with in the past four years. From Barcelona in Spain, to Chelsea in England to Porto in Portugal and PSV in the Netherlands, Pulisic has had up-close experiences training at some of the most-famed youth academies in the world. Factor in that he is the son of two former collegiate soccer stars, and it is no surprise Pulisic plays at a skill level well beyond his years.