Christian Pulisic has been put on a pedestal but not so he can be knocked down again. USA fans actually want him to do well. They’re a weird bunch.
One brilliant assist against Wales, where he produced the perfect final ball after a typically slippery run, and one goal against Iran to secure safe passage to the last 16, where he put his body on the line and got clattered to make damn sure he scored. These aren’t things Premier League watchers and Chelsea fans are used to seeing from Christian Pulisic. The nearly man who flatters to deceive in blue is the man when red and white are added.
Pulisic is the USA’s white knight. They love him. There was no doubt whom the advertisers were chasing before the World Cup and no doubt who would be chosen to represent the country on those 100 foot banners draped over buildings in Doha. If Neymar is Brazil and Kylian Mbappe is France, Pulisic is the USA and then some.
They’ve had Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, but Pulisic is the first proper soccer icon in the USA, playing for a top European team, winning trophies and earning the big bucks.
And they love a sporting icon, perhaps more so than anywhere else, and given the opportunity to hang their stetsons (it will become clear that I have little to no idea about American culture if that’s not pretty obvious already) on a star player, they will do so. Basketball and American Football fans follow players as much as teams. The United States of America, through Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Tom Brady, is the cradle of sporting stans, who are now commonplace in Europe and elsewhere, shouting into the social media abyss about why Cristiano Ronaldo is the undisputed GOAT.
With the USA set to host the tournament in 2026 and multiple members of the USMNT squad playing in the Premier League, there’s more interest now than perhaps ever before in a World Cup. And even those who don’t watch Antonee Robinson’s games for Fulham or Jesse Marsch conducting Adams and Brenden Aaronson at Leeds will know that Pulisic plays for Chelsea – a widely supported club in the States and on the East Coast in particular – and most will know he’s the most expensive USA transfer of all time.
Where the lines are blurred between the American Dream’s real-life heroes and those who wear capes in blockbuster Marvel franchises you get sports stars, who are put on a pedestal, not so they can be sadistically knocked down as is the case in England, but so they can be showered with praise, millions of dollars worth of sponsorship and a weight of pressure that hits different.
It feels as though there’s pressure on ‘Captain America’ to perform, not because he will be blamed if they lose, but because he feels the need to prove himself worthy of the adulation he will receive regardless. USA fans don’t appear to have that same switch as those across the pond, who will at some point or other decide to turn on their best player, thus making it even more difficult for that player to perform.
The desire to see Pulisic do well is so strong that any doubts are dismissed, possibly naively, but for the good of their star man and team in the short and long term. Quite simply, players do better when they’re loved. There’s no downside.
And while many Chelsea fans have grown increasingly frustrated to the point of wanting the club to cut its losses over Pulisic – one of many forwards at Stamford Bridge in the not-making-the-most-of-their-talent gang – USA fans have seen their unwavering faith in the 24-year-old rewarded in Qatar.
Those fans will be praying Pulisic recovers from an injury which threatens to rule him out against the Netherlands on Saturday, because the USA would not be in the last 16 without him and likely wouldn’t go any further as he’s scored and assisted their two goals so far.
But win or lose, with or without their icon, Pulisic will remain on the USA pedestal now and until 2026, increasing his cache, possibly still in spite of his achievements at club level, where the love tap drips compared to the gushing faucets of home.