Dear Christian Pulisic’s future child,
Your dad is an American hero.
Assuming you’re reading this in the year 2034, all you have ever known is the United States as a soccer utopia. It wasn’t always this way. But a dozen years earlier, when your father and his buddies on the U.S. men’s national team went to the World Cup in Qatar, they changed the trajectory of American sports.
We won’t go crazy here and say that Papa Pulisic birthed soccer in this country. Allegedly, the game has kind of always been around these parts and even existed, in some form, way back in 1820. But for decades, while we might have flirted with the idea of soccer, played footsie with it every four years or so, impulsively splurged on a Cristiano Ronaldo jersey and wore it to brunch while watching — what team does he play for again? — we never truly embraced the game.
That was all before your father finished the job that was started several generations earlier, and turned us into real football fans.
Let’s stop for a second and say we’re happy you’re here, kid. We feared that you might never exist. Or that you would be born with the imprint of an Iranian goalkeeper’s knee on your forehead.
That’s because in the final group stage match against Iran, the most important U.S. men’s national team competition in almost a decade, your dad put it all on the line to score the Goal That Saved America. There was a collision, a very painful one, between your pops and the keeper. They said your dad had “a pelvic contusion.” But we saw the video, champ. And let’s just say, the below-the-belt blow had us cringing over the future of the Pulisic family jewels.
“I didn’t, like, get hit in the balls,” your father informed the world.
Christian Pulisic ‘doing everything’ he can to play against the Netherlands
Whew! So that’s why you’re here (hopefully) and living in an America where soccer is beloved, a breeding ground for the nation’s most promising young athletes and, most importantly, accessible to all.
Before your dad, we were not a soccer nation, at least not on a consistent basis. One game before he sacrificed his groin for his country, a game against England became one of the most-watched men’s soccer matches in U.S. television history — and it still got less than half the viewers of a regular season NFL game the following day.
We were prideful in our ignorance. Why are these guys falling all the time and pretending like some invisible elf just stabbed them in the shin, we would stupidly ask. Now we know: That’s just part of the game. Really, flopping is as much of a tactic as crossing the ball. We love flopping now, I guess, and more than that, we understand it. Way back then, in 2022, we just didn’t get it.
Which probably explains why the commentators for the World Cup pre-match shows on Fox thought they had to dumb down soccer for us. They had to speak American. Such as when former U.S. soccer hero Clint Dempsey turned to other sports metaphors to explain what happened on the field — I mean, the pitch. Or when Alexi Lalas blurted out how a player might get “Wally Pipp’d” ahead of the U.S.-Wales match.
You, young Pulisic offspring, may not know the reference. You may be familiar with it in its current form: When a good player loses his or her spot in the lineup, we now call it getting “Gio Reyna’d.”
Sure, there were plenty among us in that niche, scarf-wearing community who never had to Google the name “Gio Reyna.” Soccer had roots here; they just didn’t run deep.
When World Cup mania crashed our shores in 1994 and with it arrived the creation of Major League Soccer, the game awakened a curiosity in some Americans. By 1999, when Brandi Chastain’s penalty strike won it for the United States in the Women’s World Cup, the momentum mushroomed into a full-fledged sensation. Sports bras were for the cool girls, and a couple of more championships in 2015 and 2019 followed. You probably didn’t realize this, little one, but U.S. dominance in the women’s game predated your existence. They just never got paid like the guys until they fought, sued and won a landmark case.
Yet still, in the years when there wasn’t a big tournament to galvanize a nation, active enthusiasm for the sport dimmed. Our attention spread out to more American pursuits, and there’s a reason there are too many millennials named “Jordan,” “Peyton” and “Jalen.” Although 5-year-olds across suburbia looked adorable while running into one another on grassy fields — my bad, pitches — the pipeline always seemed to get clogged up and cut off. Many of our fastest and strongest prospects would focus on football, basketball, softball or even track and field.
Barry Svrluga: Christian Pulisic has his moment, and the U.S. survives because of it
That all changed, thanks to the young stars of the 2022 team. Remember the legend of Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, a pair of Black boys in America who developed in MLS academies and skipped college before moving on to Europe? Then, of course, there’s your dad, the pip-sized phenom born in Hershey, Pa. Even back when he was a child, making taller defenders look silly in his YouTube highlight video, he seemed destined to become the face of U.S. soccer. And that was before he moved to Germany at 16, then blossomed into a stud with Chelsea and matured into “Captain America.”
All over that U.S. roster were starters and regulars from the more advanced European leagues, the best in the world. So although the 2002 men’s team made a run to the World Cup quarterfinals and the ’99ers on the women’s side opened the door for millions of girls, it took the most talented collection of American men’s soccer players to elevate the game to new heights.
Because of your dad and that 2022 team, we have joined the rest of the world in appreciating the beautiful game. Lil’ Pulisic, you live in a world where soccer highlights lead “SportsCenter.” (Or “SportsCentre,” as it’s called in America, because we’re fancy now.)
It’s a world where women in the NWSL no longer have to hold side hustles while attempting to make a living wage or play for male coaches who paraded as greasy overlords.
A world where short men never again have to lie about their height on Hinge. Society views little guys differently these days because getting together with one just might produce the next short king like your dad.
“It’s a big sport now,” forward Tim Weah boldly proclaimed when asked about soccer’s prominence in America a few days before that knockout round. “It’s just up to us to take it as far as we can go.”
Now if we lose Saturday to the Dutch, please, no one show this to any future Pulisics. The soccer paradise described above? Yeah, it never happened, or at least it will be years more in the making. Short men are still just short. And the next Pulisic will be raised in the same old ‘Merica a decade from now, probably getting ready to watch that big NFL Wednesday night matchup played on the moon between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Fightin’ Bezoses. But wouldn’t it be nice if all this was true?
The latest: Germany, a four-time World Cup champion, was eliminated in the group stage Thursday despite beating Costa Rica, 4-2 in the nations’ Group E finale. Japan and Spain advanced from Group E instead.
USMNT: Star forward Christian Pulisic says he’s “taking it day by day” and doing everything he can to be on the field when the United States faces the Netherlands at the World Cup on Saturday. Pulisic, 24, suffered a pelvic contusion this week when he scored from close range and smashed into Iran’s goalkeeper in the U.S. men’s national team’s Group B finale.
Round of 16: The World Cup knockout round bracket will continue to be filled in Thursday in Qatar, when Groups E and F complete play.
History made: The World Cup match between Costa Rica and Germany on Thursday will have an all-women refereeing team, a first in the history of the men’s tournament, taking charge.
Christian Pulisic risked an injury to score. We thank his unborn kid. – The Washington Post