With an average age of 24 years and 321 days, the line-up of the United States of America team against the Islamic Republic of Iran was the youngest on display in the first 36 games at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The prospect of a mouth-watering side striving to become one of the best in the world as the next edition of the competition, which will be co-hosted by the USA, is surely beginning to shape up, at least in the minds of the American fans.
Sure, there is plenty of talent on display, especially with a young and energetic midfield for Gregg Berhalter’s team, but no player has earned more plaudits or was earmarked as a star in the making earlier than Christian Pulisic.
The goal scorer in the 1-0 win over Iran was just adding to the lore, as he singlehandedly helped his side qualify for the knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup for the third time in a row, after South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014.
And his nickname of “Captain America” duly did the rounds both on the American media outlets and on social media. But how did a young aspiring football player become the face of this team and earned such a superhero nickname?
Arguably the most talented USMNT player ever, Pulisic has been a player to watch since his teenage years, when he moved to Europe, featuring constantly for German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund.
In January 2019, Pulisic became the most expensive American player in history, when Chelsea, the Premier League giant, forked out $70 million and made him a centrepiece for their young core, yet the attacking midfielder is still trying to come of age on the biggest of stages at 24 years old.
His nickname, inspired by the Marvel comics, surely added to his popularity, but as he scored the deciding goal against Iran, he definitely wrote history at Qatar 2022 and instilled confidence in himself.
Yet the USA No.10 is not so fond of the nickname as many would expect. “I’m not a big fan of being called that, to be honest—especially by my teammates,” said Pulisic for GQ, especially after NBA star LeBron James posed in Pulisic’s shirt on Instagram.
Is it just an act? The ones that know Pulisic definitely say no.
Called as a “legend” and a “trailblazer” for children who wanted to take up soccer – as it is known in the USA – Pulisic had a break due to his heritage. His grandfather was Croatian and he could get a Croatian passport when he was 16 years old, enabling him to move to Europe two years earlier than other kids who are starting to play football.
However, going to Germany without speaking the language and trying to adapt in a different country, with a different culture and learning another language was definitely not easy.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” said Pulisic in his book, “My Journey so Far,” which relates his journey from Hershey, Pennsylvania, to the pinnacle of world soccer and the chance to be the USA national team captain.
But it was all for his passion, the love for football, having grown up with parents that both played the sport, his father Mark and mother Kelley both featuring in the football teams at George Mason University. His idol was Portuguese star Luis Figo, a nod to him being Pulisic’s Twitch account – @nuttyfigo10 – where he usually streams and lets off steam after matches.
But Pulisic was close to call it quits in his first months in Germany.
“I was going through everything — school, German lessons. And then I almost felt like there was no point to it all because I couldn’t even play on the weekends,” said Pulisic. He could not feature for Dortmund, because his passport was not sent.
Until it was. And thereby his ascension started, becoming one of the most coveted players in Europe. His technique, creativity and speed were enough to lift him to stardom.
And this is how the “Captain America” moniker was coined, with Pulisic being introduced to the huge U.S. daytime TV show Good Morning America with the Marvel reference by host Michael Strahan, after USA won the CONCACAF Nations League in 2019.
With 22 goals scored in 55 matches, Pulisic jumped to seventh place in the all-time top scorers standings for the USA team, 35 goals behind the leaders, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.
Sure, both were excellent players and stars in their own making, but Pulisic really captures the identity and the talent of this new USA team. At Qatar 2022, they have already wrote history and qualified for the Round of 16. The challenge will be in four years when this team will be experienced and Pulisic can lead the USA side on home ground to a better placement.
An easy task for Captain America, right?