An American in Dortmund: Should We Worry About the Champions League?
United States fans are now at the point where we expect Christian Pulisic to start in every match possible. This is of course not a realistic expectation but U.S. fans are rarely realistic with their young stars/saviors. He is the most purely talented player on the U.S. national squad, and thus our expectations carry over to his club career. BVB fans know differently, however, and have seen his professional progression in a different light. He is one of a number of potential young stars that have come through the squad, another testament to the club’s ability to develop promising players instead of solely relying on purchasing top talent.
On Tuesday, these two different sets of expectations came to a head when Pulisic was left out of the starting XI against Real Madrid. Pulisic had captured the attention of the football world almost a year to the day when he was a force against Madrid, coming off the bench and using his speed effectively against them. For U.S. fans, not seeing Pulisic on the pitch at the first whistle was befuddling. Was Pulisic underappreciated by new boss Peter Bosz? Is the Hershey, PA native really not as well regarded as the more established players and is not seem as an automatic starter for Dortmund?
From a purely footballing standpoint, not using Pulisic made sense in the style Bosz was trying to play in the match. Philipp and Yarmolenko are more creative players who could find ways to get the ball to Aubameyang, which was the strategy in possession from the start. With both wing spots taken and Mario Götze – who in his own right is a legend for his country – tasked to start in the midfield, there was no place for Pulisic to start. Add on the fact that he had played poorly against Tottenham in the first group stage match and he has featured consistently in the league, and American fans should not worry too much about his place in the club.
The truth is like many young talents he has to consistently show that he is able to not only perform at the high levels he has set for himself but to show rapid improvement as the situation demands it. On Saturday Dortmund had a critical match at Augsburg, a side that was unbeaten at home and had gotten off to a strong start to the season. Pulisic resumed his now customary position on the left but was effectively marked out of most of the match. When he switched sides in the second half, he was more effective. He will not start every match and in critical matches against the best clubs in the world, right now there is a good chance that he will be considered more of an impact sub than a member of the starting XI. This is where those silly comparisons between him and Messi at the same age hurt the most. There is only one Messi and we will see few like him in our lifetime. While he is the most talented player for the U.S., in Europe he is another bright star that needs to continue burning or be snuffed out. This season is important for him to continue showing his development, using his vision instead of just his speed, and like many of his teammates make himself essential for key matches.