When Christian Pulisic came on in the 68th minute of Dortmund's 2-0 win against Ingolstadt, he turned heads before even touching the ball. Here was a 17-year-old American from Hershey, Pennsylvania being thrust into a crucial game for BVB to make his Bundesliga debut.
The game was 0-0 when Pulisic came on, but would ultimately finish 2-0. Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang got both Dortmund goals on the day. The young American was not directly responsible for the goals, but he did make an immediate impact after being brought on. Dortmund had struggled to break down Ingolstadt, one of the best defensive teams in the Bundesliga, but Pulisic managed to penetrate the opposition and show that he was dangerous on the ball. Pulisic might have even gotten a goal if Aubameyang had seen him open in the middle of the box for a tap-in. Understandably, the Bundesliga's leading scorer wanted to go at it himself.
Pulisic featured again this past weekend at the Olympiastadion in Berlin as he came on as a substitute for Gonzalo Castro in the 71st minute of a 0-0 tie with Hertha. Castro was primarily playing in a central role and had really struggled in what seemed to be a disjointed Dortmund midfield. Thomas Tuchel brought on Pulisic hoping he would have a similar impact as he did the week before.
On this occasion it didn't happen for Pulisic, but that's nothing to worry about. Pulisic found himself being dragged centrally, as Castro had been, despite being more comfortable on the wings. So now not only did we have a 17-year-old making his second senior appearance in one of the most historic stadiums in the world in a huge game, but he was doing it while having to play out of position.
Considering all of the above, Pulisic really didn't have a bad game. There were times where he took the ball on in the middle and was overwhelmed by Hertha defenders. There were times when his lack of experience showed as he made the wrong decision and picked out an ill-advised pass. Maybe he didn't have the impact Tuchel had hoped he would have off the bench, but I'm not sure much was going to change this game. The Hertha defense was immense under the leadership of another American, John Anthony Brooks, and it was going to take a herculean effort to move them on the day.
As the season approaches its 21st match day, Dortmund are in a spot that could prove beneficial to the development of young players like Christian Pulisic. BVB are in second place in the Bundesliga, eight points behind leaders Bayern Munich and 10 points ahead of Berlin. Barring some sort of miracle in either direction, Dortmund will finish second and will be in next year's Champions League. After last season a return to the Champions League would have been the main goal back in August. No one could have expected a title when Bayern have been so dominant for the past few years.
So now that this goal has been achieved, why not continue to give Pulisic these chances? This is a kid who won't even be 18 until September. Every match he plays for the senior team is an incredible opportunity to learn and grow through experience at the highest level. In addition to the Bundesliga, Pulisic can see playing opportunities this season in the Europa League and the DFB-Pokal.
"At the moment it's a great pleasure to have him...he's an integral part of our attack" said Tuchel about Pulisic in today's pre-Stuttgart press conference. "It's important to keep all options open; Whether he starts, comes on as a sub or plays for the Youth."
The fact that Tuchel already sees Pulisic as an "integral" part of the attack is very encouraging. It means that Pulisic is more than pulling his weight every day behind the scenes in training. It also means he is very much still in Tuchel's plans for first team action despite one lackluster performance against Berlin.
If he's not in your plans anymore, I'd ask why not? We shouldn't hype this kid up to Freddy Adu levels, but he's certainly one of the most promising young players in the squad. BVB's position in the league is pretty much nailed on, and the Europa League and DFB-Pokal are already perfect competitions for giving youth valuable experience against quality teams.
Next season Pulisic will be 18 and will hopefully have bulked up a little bit more. Experience he gains this season will be vital for his performances in the next, a season which Dortmund fans can be very excited about. Pep Guardiola will be plying his trade in Manchester rather than in Munich, and the title race could very well be open for the first time in a few years. Thomas Tuchel will also have had another year to tinker with his squad and mold it into what he wants it to be in terms of personnel and playing style.
Play Pulisic now, but show patience, as it's in the next couple years when we could really see him make an impact and fulfill his tremendous potential.