Unless you’re that person who scoffs as a soccer highlight appears on the SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays highlight reel, you have probably heard the news. Twenty year-old American, Christian Pulisic, signed a deal with the renowned English Premier League side, Chelsea FC.
The deal is not so much surprising as the price tag that accompanies it. With a number around $74 million, Pulisic becomes the most expensive American soccer player ever and it is not even close. That figure is about four times larger than any other, following center back John Brook’s move to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg in May of 2017.
Not even a week following that announcement which shook the soccer world, especially in American circles, fellow American forward Timothy Weah was in the headlines. The 18 year-old son of George Weah, the President of Liberia and 1995 Ballon d’Or winner, is in his second year of his contract at Paris Saint-Germain.
Both of these moves have large implications in the US Soccer community as they involve the two most budding young stars. Pulisic and Weah both made the jump overseas to European competition before they even met age requirements to vote in the United States.
They are also the faces on the U.S. Men’s National Team for the foreseeable future. That is no disrespect to the likes of Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Demarcus Beasley, along with others, who are in their final periods or have retired from international play recently. Those names really made strides for the sport, specifically with runs in the 2010 and 2014 World Cup and in competitions like the Gold Cup. Unfortunately, the catastrophic mix of their old age and the next generations youth proved too much for the hopes of a recent 2018 World Cup bid. The failure to qualify last summer is regarded by many as the largest disappointment our country’s soccer program as ever faced.
On the fateful October night in 2017, which saw the U.S. fall to Trinidad & Tobago and be eliminated from World Cup qualification, there was a bright spot. Christian Pulisic found himself on the score sheet. In the following year, Tim Weah would find himself rising into the U.S. roster.
So, what do these two moves mean for these youngsters, in light of their prospective international careers?
Well, Weah seems to have more room for growth and less pressure in his scenario. Not only is he two years younger than Pulisic, but his move is less demanding. He will be thrusted into the top of a contentious battle at the top of the Scottish Premier League table. However, he will only be there on a six month loan-deal. These deals do, in fact, occasionally end up being permanent moves.
The striker used his veteran teammates at PSG to consult with before agreeing to the move. “They said it’s good to go out and get experience and they felt Celtic was the best club because you’re getting that. It’s all in the package — great team, great supporters, great stadium, great coaching staff, so it’s a great place to come and learn,” said Weah in reference to whether or not he spoke to anyone at the club before the move.
This opportunity is a good one, at the least. Look, Weah was getting some minutes and producing in that time, but it takes more than futuristic talent to crack that PSG squad regularly. Celtic puts him in a league that is known for some physicality, which will do him good, especially between rivals Celtic and Rangers. It is the perfect location to draw more out of a youngster, look no further than French forward Moussa Dembélé for this.
Pulisic may, for a number of reasons, experience a lot more of a load of expectations. This will be something that he should expect as he will most likely be the face of this new generation of American soccer players.
He could face the scrutiny of recent form. Not to make light of the success he has had, including lifting silverware, at Dortmund, but this season has not been as illustrious as everyone would have wanted. It has been a battle between him and Englishman Jadon Sancho for play time. Certainly, there will be time to adapt to a new manager and squad over the summer, but to fulfill Chelsea supporters expectations that the $74 million price tag come with will be no small task.
Fortunately, there seems to be space in the team coming. The face of Chelsea for the past several years has been Eden Hazard, who looks likely to be on his way out towards Spain. No one should expect Pulisic to fill those shoes, but inevitably some will. This will be the opportunity shine under the pressure. If he can survive the treatment that a superstar gets by the press and supporters alike in England, nonetheless play good soccer on the pitch, it will be an accomplishment. The jump is a large one but Pulisic has not given any reason to doubt that he could be the emerging star that America needs as a representative overseas.
That is what this really comes to. Some might find it an unfair cross to assign Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah to bear, but inevitably someone will have to. United States soccer was at rock bottom about a year ago, but the factor that kept it from going under is the potential of the talent we have. It is no secret that success in Europe needs to meet with the growing MLS and USL systems to maximize potential. This seems like it could be the forces of personnel and timing that prove to be a successful combination, rather than a colossal wreck.