There's really no better player to model your game after if you're a young American youth soccer player. Why not try to learn how to play like Christian Pulisic, someone who knows how to take players on with the ball at his feet, a unique skill that's often lost in the game of soccer.
Key: Want to play like Christian Pulisic? Spend time with the soccer ball on your own day in and day out. Play as much soccer as you can, but have fun doing it. Do it because you want to and just love to play. When dribbling, touch the ball with every step, even when you're sprinting with the ball. See Pulisic's interview on 60 minutes here.
This ability to go at players on the dribble is a soccer skill that will separate you from most of the other players in your league. And Pulisic is adept at getting the ball and going right at defenders, putting them on their heels, Pulisic keeps the ball close to his feet and can cut the ball one way or the other to throw off the defender. He's not afraid of going at any defender, whether they play for Real Madrid or Mexico's national team.
At just 17 years old, Pulisic was already playing for Borussia Dortmund in Germany, one of top soccer clubs in Europe. I think something that really stands out about Pulisic, is his love for the game soccer and desire to get better. That's why he went to Germany. This love for the game is a trait that all top soccer players share, they just want to play day in and day out and get better.
Pulisic has become the great hope for American soccer. The new Landon Donovan. Better than Donovan, in fact. Here he scores a goal for the United States in a World Cup qualifier against Panama.
The other thing that stands out with Pulisic is his passion and desire to score. It seems ingrained in him to go at goal and always look for ways to score or create goal scoring chances. He's relentless. And like all great soccer players he always wants the ball at his feet. And if he doesn't have the ball he's always asking for it.
When asked if he likes Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi best, he said that growing up he idolized Messi. Which makes sense, since Pulisic dribbles the soccer ball much like Messi does - the ball tethered to his foot and touched with each step he takes. If you want to play like Pulisic you have to learn how to dribble the ball close to you and at speed.
And while Pulisic is exceptional on the ball, dribbling, cutting and beating other players, he also knows how to play simple two and one touch soccer. If you watch him, he gives the ball off and gets it back, he plays with in himself and doesn't overly complicate the game.
Pulisic's Dad made sure he played with confidence when he was playing against older kids growing up - that's confidence has stuck:
"He became obsessed with soccer and before he started kindergarten had mastered one of the sports most difficult skills: playing with both feet. He'd play for hours in the yard. When his parents finally coaxed him inside for dinner, he'd pass under this sign -- confidence -- the one-word Gospel according to Mark.
Mark Pulisic: He was always playing up against older kids so I said there was only one thing you can never lose -- you always have to play with confidence. That you belong. So I wrote it up there. I did a spell check first to make sure it would be spelled properly."
An interesting thing that Pulisic has written about is how having a Croatian passport enabled him to sign with Dortmund when he was 16:
"As a result of my dual citizenship, I’ve been able to play in Europe, training at the Dortmund academy, since I was 16. Without it? I would have had to wait until I was 18. And for a soccer player … man, ask anyone and they’ll tell you — those age 16–18 years are everything. From a developmental perspective, it’s almost like this sweet spot: It’s the age where a player’s growth and skill sort of intersect, in just the right way — and where, with the right direction, a player can make their biggest leap in development by far."
I'd go further though and say that around 11 or 12 kids start to choose which sport that want to focus on. I think it's good to play multiple sports when you're young, but you have choose one if you want to become a pro. Soccer is unique because it takes time to develop the control and touch on the ball. It takes years and hours of work with the ball. But it's not really work when you love to play. In the article mentioned above, Pulisic goes on to take about the need to be challenged at a young age, 16 or 17, when you're usually the star on your team.
That's when you have to find a new team that's better where you're not the star. And sometimes this means playing with older players. Pulisic talks about young players in the MLS who don't get the chance to play in as many games as young stars in Europe.
Lastly, like all great soccer players, Pulisic knows how to use his body to protect the ball and shield it when under pressure. And he's not afraid of pressure either, invites it rather, since he knows once the defender is close he can go by him or pass the ball off. While Pulisic isn't tall or that big, he's tough and strong one the ball - always keep his body between the ball and the defender.
Yes, there's talk of Manchester United and Liverpool trying to sign Pulisic, but surely he fits in more in Spain, at Barcelona.