In a city famous for its beer, Christian Pulisic was toasting another trophy success on Sunday, lifting his second piece of silverware in eight days.
Chelsea’s American star got his hands on the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League in Denver, Colorado, at the weekend just over a week after he lifted the Champions League trophy with his club in Portugal.
The USMNT beat Mexico in a rip-roaring clash 3-2, with Pulisic netting a very late winner from the penalty spot with the captain’s armband around his left arm, under immense pressure, to complete a very successful 2020/21 for the attacker.
Denver has nearly 150 breweries in its city and surrounding metro area, a lot of them are some pretty famous exports to these shores. Pulisic is also a very famous American export himself and has his hands on some new pieces of silverware.
What has been a bit of an up and down campaign for Pulisic has ended on a very high note with his success for both club and country in the last eight days.
Having lit up post-lockdown football last season after Project Restart kicked into gear, Pulisic was a key player for Frank Lampard as Chelsea secured a crucial top four finish. Pulisic netted four times in nine Premier League games and bagged the same number of assists as well.
Then there was his goal in the losing FA Cup final effort to Arsenal as well as Lampard ended the season without a trophy but with Champions League football secured for this season – and we all know what happens next.
2020/21 was more of a struggle for Pulisic, who failed to kick on. Despite Chelsea’s bright start under Lampard, which faded pretty quickly around December last year, the USMNT international seemed to struggle recovering from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the start of the season.
He was a regular starter in the final throes of the Lampard era when five defeats in eight games cost the former manager his job in west London. The arrival of Thomas Tuchel, who handed Pulisic his senior debut at Dortmund, was supposed to spark life into the attacker.
He would only net three further times in the campaign, two of those coming in the 4-1 victory at Crystal Palace in early April. He did start the final seven games of the season as Chelsea stumbled towards the end but eventually secured that coveted fourth-place finish which Tuchel was brought into achieve.
The Champions League final, with Pulisic coming off the bench for the final 25 minutes and in which time he really should have wrapped it up to secure a 2-0 win rather than a 1-0 one, saw Pulisic start his mini-golden period.
The 22-year-old – and it’s hard to forget he’s still very young – is a national hero in the USA. Arguably their most famous footballer of all time already, and one of its most successful, he has a lot of weight on his shoulders.
But the level-headed star takes it all in his stride, as shown when he celebrated his Champions League win by walking around the Estadio do Dragao while wearing a USMNT hoodie.
Pulisic revealed that it was his father who gave him the hoodie from the stands in Porto for him to wear down on the grass.
He said: “It was his hoodie. I wasn’t thinking at all. But once he brought it down [from the stands], he’s like, ‘Oh, you should put this on.’ I was like, ‘That’s a great idea.’
“Show what we’re representing out there, being an American playing on the national team and then winning the Champions League. I think it’s just a cool message.”
Speaking to football.london, Conrad, who played 27 times for the USMNT and is an analyst for CBS Sports on their Champions League coverage: “What I love about his game is that he doesn’t tend to play safe, he always looks to break you down, beat, there is always something about his game that is positive.
“It is a little easier to get behind and to support a player who has that type of attacking prowess.
“Those types of decisions, the way that he plays, that approach and he seems to have that approach to his life as well, we see it unfold, his ambition, and you can say he he wants more. I think that is a great person to follow and aspire to. That mentality and his visibility for younger players to look at him and say ‘look, Christian did that, I can do that too, is so important.
“He’s at the very top and I am curious that if we talk to the U20s in 15 years, maybe even ten years, how many say they loved Pulisic and he was the reason I started playing?
Football is still growing in popularity in the USA but it is still behind American Football, Basketball and Baseball. The most recent study showed there are 4.2million Americans playing football.
Women’s football in the States has been phenomenally successful, over not just recent years but decades, while the men’s game ihas been a slower burner . The popularity of players like Pulisic, and simply wearing a hoodie in Porto, is the latest step to grow the game in a country of 330million people.
Nick Verlaney, from the popular Chelsea podcast London Is Blue over in the States, tells football.london: “I saw his first international goal in 2017 in Kansas City, I was sat right behind the goal, and you just knew this was a special kind of player.
“It’s a weird dynamic because he is really viewed as this Captain America figure and it is largely because of his role in the national team and all the amazing work he has done leading up to the 2018 World Cup qualifying failure. He really took the leadership on at a young age and that is where folks are drawn to him.
“The club stuff is a bonus. There are people over here that just want to see him win a World Cup.
“He certainly has raised the profile. Every country has their tribalism and wants to see their country do well and we are very much in that camp, we want to see an Amercian succeed in England. The fact he was able to lift the Champions League last week, play such a crucial role in the two games against Real Madrid his hat trick last year agains Burnley, all of these things help elevate the game over here.
“It helps he is the kind of superstar, flashy midfielder, super talented not like a world class defender who is maybe quite hard to seel – he is Chelsea’s number ten.”
There are some impressive youngsters from the other side of the Atlantic starting to emerge as well. Pulisic isn’t doing it by himself, he’s getting support from the likes of Weston McKennie (Juventus) and Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) who both scored in the CONCACAF success.
Sergino Dest is making waves at Barcelona too and Zack Steffen has established himself as a number two stopper at Man City.
But it is Pulisic that is the poster boy for men’s football in the States. US sports fans love to create almost god-like figures in their sports people, whether it be LeBron James in basketball, Serena Williams in tennis, Tom Brady in the NFL for example. Can Pulisic reach that level?
Conrad said: “I would say that, we, as a sporting country love to see our athletes competing at the highest of levels. Obviously the Champions League was a very big deal, it was almost a watershed moment.
“Had he scored that chance to make it 2-0, those are the moments. Yes he can be the poster boy, but do you have the poster boy moments to back that up? I liken it to Landon Donovan scoring against Algeria in 2010 when we needed to score to get out of our group.
“That was a moment. Landon didn’t need to prove himself anymore but to have that, people will never forget where they were and what they were doing at that moment. Christian still needs to have some of those and that will be how he transcends being a more mortal into a mythical figure like a LeBron James.
“It’s one thing to do it for a European club, it is another to do it for your country.
“We can all see how this is setting up. It starts with him having these big moments like he against Mexico, leading the team, scoring a huge goal, lifting the trophy in front of that group of guys, these are all valuable experiences for him.”
Verlaney adds: “That goal was a big moment for him. Not that he hasn’t scored in big games for us before or played well in big games, he is the captain and has earned that but the immense pressure to beat Mexico in the final, they have had the better of the rivalry for a long time.
“It was a big deal for him to slot that penalty home in such confident fashion, it was ice cold,. He has that ability to switch it on mentally like that. I think where he – probably won’t admit it – is when his body is letting him down, his mind goes. If he is healthy and switched on, we see him do incredible stuff.
Continued success with Chelsea, a club known for it, and we could see his USA hoodies on the pitch with more and more frequency but perhaps it is delivering even more so on the national stage for his country that could truly send Pulisic into the stratosphere.
“That’s the new frontier that he needs to tackle,” Conrad added.
“That’s where smoke of the conversation is still existing as to whether he will be better than Landon Donovan or a Clint Dempsey. These guys scored goals in multiple world cups and he [Pulisic] hasn’t played in one yet.
“That benchmark itself is something he will have to achieve. We all think he will, he just needs those opportunities.
“With the USMNT, he has somewhat come in as our lord and saviour, he’s going to be the guy to lead us to glory that we have been wanting for so long, or at least the promise of glory.
“There are guys that go over, most notably him, is very important. There are things that he is doing that is starting to change the stereotype of American players and one of them is that you can’t count on them, they can win you games, we are more than just good goalkeepers or solid defensive players.
“It started with DaMarcus Beasley, Donavan, Demspey – they opened the door and I think Pulisic kicked it open. We have a bunch of young players that are looking up to him in a meaningful way, they see him play for his club and they have expectations for the national team and I can only think that it will push the national team to even greater heights.
“We actually believe we can reach that level because of what Christian has done with his club.”