Shirtless, drenched in beer, fists pumping in the air, one could see what the goal meant to Christian Pulisic. The American Dream made the Americans dream of glory, victory over their fiercest rivals and of much greater things to come. As he celebrated his match-winning penalty against Mexico in the CONCACAF Nations League final, those watching behind Chelsea-tinted glasses must have surely asked themselves, “will a solitary goal for his club mean as much to Pulisic ever?”
Pulisic is a unique player, unquestionably. His skillset is of an elite level; his quality on—and off—the ball stands out spectacularly on good days. However, his uniqueness isn’t just limited to what he brings to the table, it also extends to what is expected of him. Taking a prompt from Marvel Studios’ new series about the Norse god of mischief, Loki, he too is “burdened with glorious purpose.”
The United States of America is witnessing a Golden generation unlike any other. The stars have shone before, but perhaps never as brightly. Pulisic is the face of this new generation, one which the Americans hope will lead them towards substantial glory in 2026 when the World Cup returns to the States and its neighbors. The pressure on his young shoulders is plentiful.
Where does Chelsea figure into all this? For starters, it is its blue that Pulisic dons for nine out of twelve months each year—more or less. Moreover, Chelsea too expects the American to grow in stature as the years pass by and fill the void left by the departure of another trickster, Eden Hazard. But last season was a step back, rather than one forward, even if it ended in silverware. Therefore, we ask ourselves: where does Pulisic go from here, where can he improve, how can he be more impactful or, simply put, what next? These questions apply for both club and country.
The past and the future
We’re taking a trip back in time to August 1, 2020. Chelsea is facing Arsenal in the FA Cup final, and after a closely contested first half, the score stands at 1-1. Pulisic has already found the net in the match once and is through on goal again in the early moments of the second half. He races towards Emi Martinez in the Arsenal goal, but something flips. Pulisic lets out a cry; he has pulled his hamstring, which would signal the end of his game and rule him out until October.
That, unfortunately, has been a trend so far with the American. He has been great in parts and injured in others. It is telling that despite signing for Chelsea ahead of the 2019/20 season, Pulisic has made just 52 appearances in the league out of a possible 76. Keeping himself fit at all times has definitely been a challenge, and the continuous cycle of injuries and recovery has certainly taken its toll on the youngster.
Breaking that 30-league games threshold should be No. 1 on the list of priorities for Pulisic, although that is a responsibility he shares with others—coaches, physios, nutritionists and so on. Still, there are plenty of improvements to be made to his game, not least to his finishing. Despite arriving in London just two years ago, the 2021/22 season could be a make-or-break opportunity for him.