The Profile Dossier: Christian Pulisic, Soccer's 'Captain America'
“Sometimes you have to take a risk if you want great things to happen.”
Christian Pulisic has always been younger, smaller, and leaner than his peers.
When Doug Harris, the president and co-founder of the PA Classics club, saw Pulisic play for the first time, he was surprised at how tiny he seemed in comparison to his teammates. Then he realized — Pulisic was playing two years above his age group.
“The kids were always a foot taller, a bit more physical than he was, but he really learned to refine his ability that way and it was remarkable to watch,” Harris said. “His special awareness – where to go, where the ball was going to fall – was just something else, and you could tell right away that he was absolutely fearless.”
Those classic Pulisic attributes of awareness, determination, and fearlessness weren’t always obvious. He cultivated them as a result of being the underdog time and time again. In each situation — whether he was smaller or the new kid who didn’t speak the language — Pulisic always stepped up.
Pulisic’s love affair with soccer began early. Growing up in Hershey, Penn., he was eight years old in third grade when he filled out an “All About Me” survey in school. What did he want to be when he grew up? “A pro soccer player?” And what did he like to do most? “Play soccer.” And what was the best thing about him? “I love soccer.”
Pulisic’s parents noticed his passion for the sport and helped him fan the flames. By age 10, Pulisic began playing club soccer, and his dad took him to Europe for club games and summer training academies.
On December 13, 2013, he lined up against Brazil at the ‘Under-17 national team’ tournament in Florida, and he scored in a 4-1 win. “That was the match when I really felt like I could play at the highest level, that I could do this,” he writes in his memoir.
The date 12/13/2013 is now tattooed on his arm because it was “a massive day that changed my life.” It affirmed that his appetite for excellence paid off. He now believed he could not only make the national team, but that he could be the best player on the team.
When he was 15, his family made the difficult decision to move to Germany before Pulisic’s 16th birthday in order to give him the chance to play for the professional German club, Dortmund. “There were dark days,” he says about juggling school, learning the language, and attempting to fit into a new culture.
From there, Pulisic has been on an upward trajectory. He continued performing and obsessing over being better and better. In 2019, he transferred from Dortmund to Chelsea FC for $73 million, making him the most expensive player. He was only 20 years old. At 21, he became the youngest Chelsea player to score a hat-trick.
Despite his successes, he still obsessed about making his ultimate dream come true: To represent the United States at the World Cup. After the U.S. men’s national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, he said, “It hurt more than I can really put into words.”
And then in 2022, Pulisic, as the team’s youngest-ever captain, led the team to score against Panama in World Cup qualifications by scoring a hat trick. He also scored the goal against Iran that would propel them to Round 16 in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. (The goal also landed him in the hospital with an abdominal injury.)
“A lifelong dream made reality representing my country in a World Cup,” he wrote on Instagram. “We’ll be back.”
Here’s what we can learn from Pulisic around fulfilling your goals, pursuing excellence, and using insecurity as fuel.
— With assistance from writer Simran Bhatia
On fulfilling his goals: Pulisic and co-author Daniel Melamud released an autobiography in October 2022, titled “My Journey So Far.” The book is written as an interview between Melamud and Pulisic, and the questions do a fantastic job of diving into the heart of his journey – the successes, challenges, and everything in between. The biggest takeaway from this book is that Pulisic is just getting started, and the reality of football stardom is far from what the media paints it to be. Football fans will enjoy reading or gifting it to a young soccer player in their life.
On becoming a global soccer star: People speculate that Pulisic may be the best American soccer player ever. That's a lot of pressure but not as much as Pulisic puts on himself. “Going into a national-team game, I never thought that I need to perform because everyone is expecting me to be the best player,” he says. “I would put pressure on myself because I wanted to do well. I wanted to be that player that everyone wanted me to be.”
On stepping up: One of Pulisic’s defining characteristics is that he always steps up even when others doubt that he’s ready. That’s because unlike many of his peers, Pulisic is unafraid of discomfort. In fact, he welcomes it. His dad says, “He never shied away from anything or made excuses. He was never afraid of taking on new challenges, and you see a lot of players in America who find it very difficult to do that, because the US is a very comfortable place.”
On his competitive nature: Pulisic says he may seem low-key, but he’s an uber-competitive person — and not just on the field. His competitive streak even comes out when he’s playing trivia against his mom. “I want to be out on the field as much as I can,” he says.
On his spectacular rise: VICE News interviewed Pulisic six years ago, when he was just starting out his international football career at Dortmund and as part of Team USA. Much has changed in Pulisic’s career since this short documentary, but it’s still interesting to see what the early stages of his life looked like. We not only learn about Pulisic’s natural dedication to the game, but also how his parents nurtured the fire in him.
On performing at an elite level: In this longform interview, Pulisic explains just how mentally taxing it is to play at an elite level. “People don’t realize what it takes to make it at the highest level,” he says. “I’ve seen it over the years with plenty of players who are just so talented, and maybe they don’t have that drive, and that could be what it takes to make it.”
Your insecurities could transform into your greatest strengths: People often ask me, “Wow, you didn’t know English 20 years ago, and now you write for a living?” I have a theory that your greatest strengths today were likely your biggest insecurities in the past. I had always loved writing and communicating, but when we moved to the U.S, I suddenly couldn’t because of the language barrier, and that drove me more than I realized. Pulisic has a similar experience. When his family moved to Germany, 16-year-old Pulisic had a hard time assimilating. "I remember not speaking the language or understanding anyone. Every single day was a grind," he said. "I had to get stronger and stronger, quicker and quicker with all my movements. It's a fast learning process if you want to be successful at the highest level." Now, he can communicate effortlessly with his teammates through a look, a nod, or body language. He doesn’t even need to use words. His insecurity became his greatest strength.
Don’t get caught up in the hype: One of Pulisic’s most underrated attributes is that he’s just … a regular guy. And not just that he’s a regular guy, but it’s that he hasn’t forgotten that he’s a regular guy. Here’s an example: He scored his first goal against Bolivia in Kansas City in a friendly match before Copa America. The night before, he had gone to his high school prom after asking Jurgen Klinsmann for permission. “I told him that I’d missed out on so much and that all my friends wanted me to go,” he says. Jurgen let him go, and Pulisic flew to Hershey, Penn., had a great time, and went to a few after-parties. He adds, “I avoided drinks and then flew back to Kansas the next morning, sleeping on the plane for three hours. I was a bit tired and didn’t start, but I was subbed in at the end and scored!” The mundane nature of this story is what makes it extraordinary. He was just a high school kid who wanted to attend his prom. If there’s one thing we can learn from Pulisic, it’s this: Don’t ever take yourself so seriously that you forget to enjoy the little moments that make up a life.
Excellence should be at the heart of any pursuit: Pulisic has said that his whole life, he’s been “obsessed with winning.” No matter what he’s doing — whether it’s a game of H-O-R-S-E with his dad, capture the flag, or a video game with his friends, the idea of needing to win, he says, “it would just eat at me.” No matter what he takes on, he wants to be the best. I remember seeing a quote in a yoga studio once that said, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Pulisic is likely at the top of his sport because he strives for excellence regardless of his endeavor. So whether you’re a professional athlete or a newsletter writer, there’s always room to be the best.
QUOTES TO REMEMBER.
“Sometimes you have to take a risk if you want great things to happen.”
“I just always learned that if you want to be the best, you have to play against the best.”
“The biggest thing I can do is lead by example.”