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Is Christian Pulisic still the United States’ top player?

Christian Pulisic
Image: Erik Drost - USMNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago

 In 2019, Christian Pulisic became North America’s most-expensive transfer when Chelsea paid Borussia Dortmund $73 million for his services. Pulisic’s transfer to west London reminded the world of just how highly regarded the forward was prior to the World Cup in 2018. Pulisic was a part of an American national team that failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, a feat the USA hadn’t accomplished since 1986, and opinions of the team’s players were low.

Pulisic’s first year in the Premier League didn’t go smoothly. There were injuries, inconsistent form, and a manager that, much of the time, struggled to realize Pulisic’s potential. As they say, the cream rises to the top, and Pulisic overcame his issues in 2019-20 to become one of Chelsea’s most important players. Wearing the No. 22 shirt, Pulisic scored nine goals and added four assists in 1,738 minutes of league football. Pulisic contributed to a Chelsea score (goals-plus-assists) every 133.7 minutes in the Premier League.

Unfortunately for Pulisic, just as he was on track to help Chelsea win the FA Cup, he suffered a serious hamstring injury in the final against Arsenal. His departure from the game came after putting the Blues up 1-0 in the fifth minute. Pulisic’s absence allowed the Gunners back into the game and the chance to overcome Chelsea for the trophy.

Christian Pulisic returned this season with new vigor but has had to fight for his place in the team after Chelsea’s big spend in the transfer market. Now wearing the No. 10, Pulisic has failed to score or assist a goal in three Premier League appearances as of October 26.

Since Christian Pulisic rose to prominence at Borussia Dortmund as a teenager, he has been considered the United States’ top soccer star. Pulisic is a throwback to the likes of Clint Dempsey, but lacks the rough around the edges fight of the former Fulham man. There are also parts of his game that remind fans of Landon Donovan, although Pulisic has more to his game than the LA Galaxy legend.

But failing to get the USA into the World Cup in 2018 and having fallen down the pecking order at Signal Iduna Park prior to the Chelsea transfer, questions remain over where or not Pulisic is the country’s top player.

Last summer, midfielder Weston McKennie moved on a loan from Germany’s Schalke to Italy’s Juventus. Now playing in a team with higher quality players, McKennie has the chance to develop further. Defensive midfielder/defender Tyler Adams has been a superstar at RB Leipzig since trading in New York Red Bulls for their sister club. Adams’ goal versus Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals last season was a new achievement for an American soccer player.

Of all the rising American soccer players in Europe, Pulisic included, there is one at Borussia Dortmund that could overtake the Chelsea star as America’s top star soon. Gio Reyna is on a similar trajectory to the one Pulisic enjoyed at Borussia Dortmund. The forward is just 17-years-old but has been playing with Borussia Dortmund’s first-team since January 2020. A former New York City FC academy player, Reyna is the son of former US national team player Claudio Reyna and Danielle Egan, a member of the US Women’s national team.

The Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder has excelled for the Germans. In 20 Bundesliga games as of this writing, Reyna scored one goal and added four assists. But that is where the rising Reyna and the established star of Pulisic differ.

Since breaking into the Borussia Dortmund first-team full-time in 2016-17, Pulisic has scored goals and created them in equal measure. It wasn’t until last season that Pulisic bagged a career-high in league goals, however. His nine goals were the best return in the league in a career that is just a little over five years old.

Reyna is already being compared to Pulisic as the Chelsea forward is the new measuring stick for American soccer. Christian Pulisic is still just 22-years-old and still has a long way to go in his development. If Pulisic can continue to post numbers like he did in 2019-20, then he could become the best American soccer player ever produced by the stars and stripes.

It feels like Pulisic is still trying to win over Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. With the Blues continually spending big on attacking players, Pulisic may need to move clubs to fulfill his true potential. For now, he is still the USA’s top star and could be for the foreseeable future.