The other Chelsea FC players walked to the stands dressed only in their royal blue uniforms to accept the medal signifying they had won the UEFA Champions League, the club’s highest honor of the most popular sport in the world . Christian Pulisic, however, wrapped what looked like a gray sweater around his body. It seemed like an odd time to worry about the cold in Portugal’s night air, but he was entitled to some solace at such a magnificent time.
As Chelsea celebrated their 1-0 win over Manchester City at the Estadio do Dragao pitch, it became apparent that Pulisic’s extra garment was there to make a statement. If one looked closely, while he was still draped back over his shoulders, it was evident that there was a red, white and blue logo stamped across the chest. It was the crest of American football.
By the time Pulisic had his moment with the trophy and was surrounded by his parents, Mark and Kelley, he had donned the sweatshirt to show the world his true colors and present American men’s football with one of its greatest. advertising.
At 22, Pulisic became the first member of the United States Men’s National Team to make a Champions League final and the first to win it. It was a giant leap in the rapid evolution of American football.
Pulisic wore his American sweater to try to inspire the next generation: “I hope there are kids looking at home in America thinking they can do the same. It’s huge, it’s the greatest thing you can win in club football. ” #CFC #UCLfinal
– Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) May 29, 2021
The year he was born in Hershey, Pa., Major League Soccer had just completed its third season after the country went without a major professional league for a dozen years. The American men had ended a four-decade World Cup drought just eight years ago. There were only a few of this country playing in the best European leagues, only a few had ever had it, among them John Harkes in England, Alexi Lalas in Italy, Claudio Reyna and Jovan Kirovski in Germany, where the latter was part of a 1997 Champions League winner for Borussia Dortmund but did not make the final.
If you were American and big clubs were interested, you were probably a goalie, like Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel. The football world was watching Americans like Michael Caine mocked Sylvester Stallone in “Victory”.
In 2021, however, the Americans won league championship trophies in England, France and Austria and cup trophies in Germany, Spain and Italy. Right-back Sergino Dest was a teammate of Lionel Messi at Barcelona. Midfielder Weston McKennie played with Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus.
MORE: USMNT Pioneering the Next Step for Pulisic
And now, the current top American, the player in contention to become the greatest American male player of all time, has danced with the club game’s most prized trophy and has been an integral part of the winning team. A season that included too many injuries, a change of coach that rocked his position with the team, but then a brilliant soaring through the biggest games of the season ended with Pulisic raising his arms to the sky at the final whistle, then falling forward in a display of unbridled joy.
The moment Christian Pulisic became the first American male to play and win a European Cup 🏆 pic.twitter.com/XD7ahuTkiP
– Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) May 29, 2021
“I can’t even explain it,” Pulisic said in a post-game interview. “It’s always such a shock. It’s just amazing. I have no words. I’m so proud.”
The final did not progress as Pulisic would have dreamed. He hasn’t started for Chelsea, which he has had in eight of the team’s last 12 games. Manager Thomas Tuchel opted for a greater physical presence on the right wing, Germany’s Kai Havertz 6-2, who had yet to score in the Champions League. And it looked like Tuchel would pay for that decision when Havertz missed two great scoring opportunities early in the first half, the odds you know the US fans thought would have been in the net had Pulisic been on the pitch.
MORE: Can UCL Glory Throw Pulisic Into Cross Stardom?
In the 42nd minute, however, Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy started a step forward with a quick distribution on the left sideline, which allowed full-back Ben Chilwell to advance perfectly into the attacking midfielder. Mason Mount. Havertz sprinted to a gap between Manchester City center-backs and Mount placed a sizzling pass that traveled 40 yards and found Havertz in stride. There was no one between him and Man City’s Ederson, so the keeper rushed up the box in hopes of defusing the situation before Havertz could unleash a shot. Havertz made a neat movement to the left and the keeper fell helplessly onto the grass. Havertz then rolled the ball to the back of the net for what would be the only goal of the game.
When Pulisic came on in the 66th minute, there was still a chance for heroism, and there was such a moment: six minutes later, when he combined with Havertz on a disturbing move that took ended with a pass to Pulisic on the right of the box, but he then fired his shot a foot wide from the far post.
“I would like to put aside the luck I had,” he said. “I didn’t quite get it the way I wanted, but in the end, this team, we were still going to win this game. And I’m so proud of them.
“I just tried to go under. I thought the keeper had done well to block the angle. And I just wasn’t slippery enough; I couldn’t go under. I have it in some way. so fired. But hey, listen, we won. So I don’t think about it.
The hard slap of Pulisic’s right hand on the turf confirmed his awareness that he had missed out on an opportunity for glory, but it was only delayed. It may be that his most important contribution to the final was a body block he threw against striker Gabriel Jesus along the left sideline in the 89th minute to stop an attack from Manchester City. Instead of rushing onto the pitch and putting Chelsea in danger, City had to restart their movement with a touch.
Pulisic’s gifts for the game were fully on display in the semi-final victory over Real Madrid, when he scored Chelsea’s opening goal and created the third, which saw him advance to the final. . He was in no way of the game. With players like Olivier Giroud, winner of the World Cup with France; Moroccan veteran Hakim Ziyech; and young England talent Callum Hudson-Odoi on the bench, Tuchel trusted Pulisic to help get the ball out of the opponent’s territory, own it for as long as possible and create all the cautious scoring chances.
“I’m so proud, so proud to be here,” Pulisic said. “It’s been a tough road for me. I couldn’t imagine winning the Champions League in my life. And now I’m here.”
It’s not just Pulisic, however. All of American men’s football can say the same. The sport’s biggest annual game now features an American champion. “It’s just crazy,” Pulisic said, and that was a perfect description.