The Christian Pulisic experience is moving on to Stamford Bridge. After many months of speculation Pulisic made the move to Chelsea during the January transfer window. $73.1 million dollars and thousands of words later (including a very fine tweet from Mr. Pulisic himself in German and English) the world seems to have moved on from the headline making transfer. The rest of the world sans the United States, who are still trying to figure out what this all means.
The Pulisic transfer isn’t the first time that the United States has grappled with this big question. Much like a snowy pitch always calls for an orange ball U.S. soccer transfer always seems to bring up the inevitable question: Just what does this mean for the state of the game in the States?
At this point many will ask why the United States tethers so much on a single transfer. The answer to this is fairly simple: as a footballing culture everything still very much grassroots. Despite the corporate bureaucracy at the top many of the coaches, managers, and staff members that work in American soccer are still fans at heart. Every kid that ‘makes’ it is seen as a sign that things are moving forward.
There is still this hope that if Pulisic succeeds that it will mean more opportunities for other players, that Pulisic is a lightning rod. That he played for PA Classics, a youth soccer club in Pennsylvania and worked his way up through the ranks for Youth Soccer certainly helps.
While there are those who certainly see this as a golden chance for Pulisic, and by extension American soccer, there are those who see some pitfalls. The perception of Chelsea, rightly or wrongly, is that they like to stock up on players and send them on loan. The U.S. have already been through this with Matt Miazga, who has been loaned off to Vitesse Arnem and Nantes to little success. That Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri didn’t seem to know about Pulisic in the lead up to the deal has also raised red flags.
Even the transfer fee itself is subject to scrutiny. As opposed to the rest of the world the United States does not give out solidarity payments to non-professional clubs who help develop these superstar players. Because of this Classics missed out on a reported $800,000. While Classics didn’t pursue a lawsuit, citing that the club is under a pay-to-play model, it still brings up the debate of how clubs are compensated in American soccer.
The reason for why there is such trepidation isn’t really about Chelsea or any club really. It is because the hope is that this move will lead to more respect for the American game and hopefully lead to more opportunities for more American players. America has never lost the chip on its shoulder and after missing out on the 2018 World Cup it seems to be bigger than ever.
At least on the second point Pulisic has already made an impact. Over 133 American players currently play in the various levels of German football. Players like Chris Richards of Bayern Munich, Josh Sargent of Werder Bremen, and Tyler Adams of Red Bull Leipzig are breaking through much like Pulisic did at Borussia Dortmund and have very similar backstories to that of their USMNT teammate.
But the first point is still one that needs to be ironed out. The English Premier League has permeated the American sporting landscape to a point where it can pull in non-soccer fans for big matches. That is a positive sign for soccer in this country it comes during a time in which the United States doesn’t really have too many players playing in the top division. While many remember Tim Howard’s work for Everton and appreciate Deandre Yedlin’s skill for Newcastle there is a very big difference between Chelsea and those two sides.
That Pulisic hasn’t tapped into that non-soccer audience also hurts. While he is seen as a great ‘up and coming’ player he isn’t seen as an established superstar. Remember: the United States didn’t make the World Cup this year and many sports fans are at work during Champions League play. While the hardcore soccer fans recognize his skill those who are casual fans are still a little unsure.
The Pulisic move is a game-changer for the United States . The question is now: What is next? There aren’t any easy answers here. Whether Pulisic will succeed will largely depend upon a large number of factors, some of which are beyond his control. What is known though is that the U.S. will certainly be watching.