In the 66th minute of Chelsea’s battle Saturday with Manchester City, Christian Pulisic made history as the first member of the U.S. men’s national team to play in a Champions League final.

Pulisic, thanks to Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Manchester City, then became just the second American to win the Champions League, joining Jovan Kirovski, who won with Borussia Dortmund in 1997.


“Happy for him and his family. He has a sense of confidence, but by no means arrogance,” said former childhood coach Mark Zathey, who coached Pulisic for three years with the Michigan Rush youth program. “He’s put his whole life into the game and given up so much, so it was really a sacrifice.

“I’m just so happy for him to be able to reap the rewards.”

Pulisic, a Pennsylvania native, established himself as a young soccer prodigy in metro Detroit, long before he rose to international acclaim with the U.S. national team and Borussia Dortmund in Germany’s top league.

At the age of 8, Pulisic played for the Michigan Rush club soccer team when his father, Mark, was the head coach of the now-defunct Detroit Ignition of the Major Indoor Soccer League.

“When he was with us, he was undersized, but still played bigger than everybody. Looking at some of the old film of Lionel Messi when he was a kid, there are some similarities between the two,” said Nick Deren, former Michigan Rush coach and current head coach of the Detroit Mercy men’s soccer team.

“He always had that change of speed and change of direction to always make kids miss and to strike the ball at 7 years old, 8 years old better than anybody I’ve ever seen.”

Christian excelled at club soccer, playing two age groups up and attracting attention from the surrounding community and rival teams.

“Every kid will flock to play with Christian Pulisic, they would leave their club teams to try to go play with him on the Rush team,” Deren added. “All of the players heard about him and so all the top players wanted to play with him.

“I think it’s pretty cool all of the clubs in the area played against him. All these kids are like ‘I played against that guy, or I played with that guy.’”

Fifteen years after his family’s move back to Hershey, Pennsylvania, Pulisic’s short stay left a huge impression on the Detroit and metro Detroit soccer communities. Former teammates, coaches, and opponents dutifully follow his career, purchasing Dortmund and Chelsea memorabilia to show their support.

Former coaches love watching him and analyzing the crafty footwork that made the midfielder a major contributor for Chelsea this season. Despite battling injuries, he finished Premier League play with four goals and two assists.

“You can still sort of see things that he was doing at 8, 9, and 10 years old. It’s still in his game right now,” said Zethay, now the head coach for Madonna University men’s soccer.

“We kind of look for the same type of movements, the same type of the way he scans a field, and just the type of moves that he has on the ball. It’s just it’s a sense of satisfaction and kind of comes full circle to watch him on the international stage.”

Pulisic’s history-making season could be the catalyst needed for more American soccer players to emerge in the world’s top leagues.

“Christian signing for Chelsea, which is a major club, as a main guy on the team scoring goals and playing consistently, it’s amazing to see that happen. It’s just giving Americans a little bit more hope,” Deren said.

“For the men playing soccer in America, they just haven’t received the same level of respect for their national peers. Now there’s a golden generation coming through,” Zethay added.

“Christian is one of those torchbearers right now who is really pushing the boundaries in terms of the American player gaining that respect.”

Mia Berry is a sports reporting intern with the Free Press. Reach out via email: [email protected].

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Kay Adams