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Hinrunde Review: Christian Pulisic

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How did Captain America do in the first half of the season?

Borussia Dortmund v FC Augsburg - Bundesliga Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund/Getty Images

Remember over the summer when we were all freaking out wondering if Christian Pulisic would get a chance with all the new attacking transfers? Well, turns out those fears were about as well founded as Tancredi Palmeri’s “rumors”.

Many American soccer fans, myself included, have been pleasantly surprised that Pulisic has featured often in both the Bundesliga and Champions League. In fact, he’s 4th on the team in Champions League minutes and 12th in Bundesliga minutes. As a frequent starter or first man off the bench Christian has made huge strides in his first full season as a pro.

But as much as I love driving the hype train, we need to pump the brakes a little. This kid is barely 18. Watching YouTube highlight videos and the ridiculous tweets you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s already a superstar. After all...

And...

But the truth is that Pulisic has, as expected, been very up and down. Squawka’s performance score stat illustrates this brilliantly. His offensive and overall rating literally looks like a damped oscillation.

On the offensive side his best performances have come as a substitute when he’s able to use his pace and technical ability to run at tired defenders. In fact, he’s often been Tuchel’s super-sub, coming in when the Black and Yellows are down and looking out of ideas. It was in that context that he set up Andre Schurrle’s equalizer against Madrid, and rescued a point against Ingolstadt with a goal and assist.

When Pulisic has started he tends to be muscled off by stronger defenders. Bundesliga starts have also highlighted the US international’s mostly one-dimensional runs towards the end-line looking for a cross into the box. This contrasts sharply with Dembele’s and Reus’s willingness to cut inside or run to the end-line which keeps defenders on their heels even before they have 60 minutes in their legs.

Defensively, Christian Pulisic has been more consistent, but consistently mediocre. This is to be expected from a thin 18-year-old teenager still filling out his frame, especially when Tuchel puts him at wingback to defend against the world’s best in a 5-3-2/3-5-2 hybrid. Pulisic has often looked confused in this setup, often positioning himself far too high up the field and providing minimal cover for the outside center-backs. Fortunately his work-rate on defense is still awesome and really sets him apart from many young attacking talents.

As a whole, Pulisic has slightly exceeded off-season expectations. On the one hand, he’s unexpectedly one of Tuchel’s most trusted players at 18. However, he has been inconsistent in attack and mediocre in defense.

Even so the electric flashes of skill and talent shown in the endless stream of Pulisic highlights show that Captain America is still firmly on the path to future superstar.

The outlook for the Ruckrunde, as the second half of the season in Germany is known, is less rosy for the young USA international. Lost in the hype is that many of the playing time concerns from the summer still exist. Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle, both world class wingers, missed significant time which opened up minutes for Pulisic. This is compounded by the fact that Dortmund may play fewer games in the second half depending on how they fair in the Champions League and DFB Pokal.

Regardless Christian Pulisic is developing faster than anyone expected and will play a significant role in Dortmund’s success in the Bundesliga, Champions League, and DFB Pokal. Here’s to him helping us win all 3 trophies! HEJA BVB!