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Christian Pulisic: The Tale of a Nation's Talisman

Christian Pulisic has been regarded as the leader of the United States Men's Soccer program since his rapid ascension in the professional football world with his first cap at the age of 17 years, 189 days old. His first senior appearance with the USMNT was on March 29th, 2016 against Guatemala in a World Cup Qualifying match. Since his senior debut in the red, white, and blue Pulisic has dazzled, amazed, and inspired the program's fan base. It is particularly noteworthy how this young American demonstrates the ability to command the unwavering attention of an entire back line with a level of flare and directness that is built for the elite levels of football. This transcendent talent has experienced scorching runs of form, struggles breaking into Chelsea's starting XI, inopportune injuries, and an undercurrent of continued success with the national team. Here, lies the story of Christian Pulisic, Chelea's #10.


This meteoric rise into the hearts and minds of USMNT fans has still yet to ascend to the comparable atmospheric heights during his time spent at Chelsea FC. For a number of reasons, almost entirely out of his control, the time as a Blue has not turned out to be a suitable fit for both player and club. The production while on the pitch was evident, especially early on in his Chelsea career, but now the best we can do is take a look back and determine why it did not work at Chelsea FC for Christian Pulisic.

When directly compared to his ex-teammate Kai Havertz, we can see that the on field statistical comparisons are eerily similar, but the overall narrative around both players is drastically different. Havertz has only recently signed off on a deal to make a £65m move to Arsenal while Pulisic's future as of this moment still remains undecided. While team selection has harmed Pulisic at key moments in his Chelsea career, it would seem the limiting factor for his overall production while at CFC has been a litany of untimely injuries.

While team selection has harmed Pulisic at key moments in his Chelsea career, it would seem the limiting factor for his overall production while at CFC has been a litany of injuries. Christian Pulisic has missed a total of 401 days with injury as a Chelsea player and 55 total matches across all competitions. The first injury, and most significant in duration, that he sustained was on January 2, 2020 against Brighton. After suffering this tear in his abductor muscle Pulisic was sidelined for five whole months (156 days) until he could return on June 21, 2020 against Aston Villa. Pulisic returned in excellent form, with six goal contributions in his next 11 matches and capping this run off with a chip in the box to put Chelsea ahead of Arsenal in the 2020 FA Cup Final. Cohesively, the story of Pulisic reiterates he cannot catch a break and the FA Cup Final stuck unforgivingly to the script. In the 2nd half of the match Pulisic skillfully dances around the Arsenal defense and makes a direct run at the box from the left side but before he can finish the move off with a well-timed finish or pinpoint assist he pulls up with a hamstring injury that takes him out of the match. On this day Pulisic embodied his top-tier characteristics that can raise him to an elite level; unshakable confidence in technical ability, a directness in attack, and creativity that borderlines on artistry.

Pulisic following his goal in the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium against Arsenal on August 1st, 2020.


Focusing solely upon the fitness of Pulisic would provide an inaccurate picture that does not depict the entirety of his time at Chelsea for injuries are but an aspect of the tale of his time in West London. During the course of his career with Chelsea Christian Pulisic has scored 20 goals and provided 9 assists with a career xG of 23.68 and xA of 8.79. Statistically the best season of his career while with Chelsea was his first season under Frank Lampard (9 goals & 4 assists) and it was during Project Restart in which his lockdown mythos was cultivated. At this point Pulisic was at his all-time high valuation and was nominated for Premier League Young Player of the Season award but ultimately lost out to Trent-Alexander Arnold. At the end of the 2019/2020 season it seemed that the world was at his feet, for he was one of the most anticipated young stars in the league coming into the next season. This anticipation was ultimately put on pause as he did not make his first Premier League start of the 2020/2021 season until October 17th. This inability to find sizable amounts of time on the pitch resulted in a slight drop in form, which can also be attributed to playing out of his natural Left-Wing position. In the next section we will take an in-depth look at some specific sliding door moments that would have theoretically altered the trajectory of his future role within the Chelsea starting XI.


Next, let us look at the run of fixtures building up to Chelsea FC winning the Champions League in 2021. Here we will begin when Pulisic scored against Real Madrid in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Semifinal at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano in 2021. The build up to the goal sees Chelsea possessing at the mid-line and Pulisic makes a run in behind into the central channel, which Rudiger promptly connects on with a beautiful lofted ball. Once behind the defense Pulisic takes the ball down with his touch leading him to the left of the box and thus pulling Courtois out of goal. Displaying a sense of confidence and composure, Pulisic takes on Courtois and rounds him with a direct movement to the center of the box where he slides the ball past Varane and Fernandez on the back line. In scoring the opening goal of the match Pulisic became the first American to find the back of the net in a Champions League Semifinal and seemed primed for a run of impactful performances after scoring four goals in his last six starts but the tale of Pulisic has not gone as anyone would have planned. In the second leg of the tie against Real Madrid Pulisic does not make the starting XI, with Havertz being selected to take his spot. Pulisic does sub on in the 67th minute and acts as the catalyst for the game sealing goal with a quick-footed assist to Mason Mount, displaying his ability to produce on the biggest stage while even being limited by team selection.

As a rather fitting continuance in the lineage of unfortunate events Pulisic starts four of the remaining five Premier League matches of the 2021 season, with an xG of 1.1 and xA of .6, but fails to get a start in the Champions League Final against Manchester City. Once subbed on Pulisic is immediately impactful and has a golden opportunity to finish off the match in the 72nd minute with an attempted chip over Ederson after being played through on the right side by Havertz. The shot goes wide of the far post and in this instant we see a sliding doors moment that was seemingly inconsequential but will forever leave us asking what if this chance was converted. Capitalizing on this title-clinching strike would have seen Pulisic became a Chelsea legend but it was not written to be. The exclusion from the starting XI in the Champions League final and inability to convert act as a moments that encapsulate the particular cadence of instability that underlies Pulisic's time with Chelsea FC.


Within all of this one must knowledge the ability of Pulisic to continue to perform for the national team at an extremely high level while navigating his way through club football and the extra pressure of being the face of the USMNT. Pulisic has 20 goals and 11 assists during his time with the senior national team and always seems to play these matches with an extra sense of ferocity and liveliness. When the lights are the brightest, Pulisic has repeatedly demonstrated that he performs at his absolute best when representing the red, white, and blue. In this environment we see the joy and passion radiate outwards, positively impacting his performances and fellow teammates on the pitch.

Pulisic making a progressive carry past England's Kieran Trippier during the 2022 World Cup.

During the 2022 World Cup Pulisic functioned as the main catalyst for the United States attack as they managed to work their way out of the group but capitulated to the Netherlands in the round of 16. During their group stage match against England, Pulisic was arguably the best player on the pitch with a match rating of 7.4 while also carrying the weight of spearheading the United States' attack. One of the best USMNT opportunities came from a strike with his left foot in the 33rd minute that went off the crossbar a few mere inches away from slipping past the reach of Jordan Pickford and sliding into the back of the net. During the course of the tournament Pulisic netted one goal and two assists with an xG of 1.06 and xA of .57. The statistical category that displayed the true underlying influence on play by Pulisic was progressive carries. Progressive carries is defined as "Carries that move the ball towards the opponent's goal line at least 10 yards from its furthest point in the last six passes, or any carry into the penalty area. Excludes carries which end in the defending 50% of the pitch" by FBref. At the time of their departure Pulisic ranked first overall in total progressive carries but at the conclusion of the World Cup ending with a total of 23, ranking him seventh overall in the tournament.


The transfer window of summer 2023 will be an instrumental time for Christian as he searches for a suitable home that will cultivate a renaissance of sustained fitness and confidence. At the time of writing Christian has only recently put ink to paper and signed a new contract with AC Milan. One of the most important aspects of this move is that Pulisic is spending time on the pitch, getting reps at high-level game speed. Availability is the key ingredient in the recipe for Pulisic's success but in the end the main thing we hope for in his next transfer would be an integration of joy back into his club performances. A Christian Pulisic that is confident, healthy, and courageous with the ball at his feet is a sight that few back lines want to face. The ultimate question for the future of Pulisic's career is will he be able to follow in the footsteps of Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah by moving away from Chelsea and take a step up into the elite tier of world class players. Time will tell but we will happily be there to watch his story unfold. We believe in Christian but now is the time to let performances on the pitch dictate the narrative and remind everyone why he belongs amongst the elite.

- Luke

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