Borussia Dortmund needed a strong performance on Wednesday if they were going to stay in the Champions League. A 1-0 loss in the first leg to Portuguese side Benfica put the eight-time German champions at a slight disadvantage. Matters were made worse when Marco Reus suffered another injury against Bayer Leverkusen this past weekend. To replace Reus, Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel opted for American Teenager Christian Pulisic. The decision turned out to be an inspired one.
Pulisic bagged a goal and an assist as a sub against Leverkusen and made a strong case that he should be in the starting lineup against Benfica. Sure enough, Tuchel gave Pulisic the start. It’s important to note here that Andre Schürrle and Shinji Kagawa were available. In the biggest game of Dortmund’s season, and with a World Cup winner available to step in, Tuchel went with the 18-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania.
For Pulisic, this season has served to prove he’s capable of excelling in Europe. Last season’s coming out party was impressive for the teenager, but this year he’s seen his game reach a new level. Pulisic has already tripled his minutes total from last season in just the first half of this campaign.
The problem for Pulisic, however, is that he’s finding it hard to get regular starts at Dortmund. He’s not even the most highly touted teenager on the team. 19-year-old French star Ousmane Dembélé has been a revelation this year. But Pulisic has made the most of just about every opportunity given to him. His performance against Benfica shows he’s ready for the responsibility befitting elite talents. When he came on for Reus this past weekend, he immediately made an impact. It turned out to be quite the preview for what he would do midweek.
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Pulisic saved the best performance of his career for the perfect occasion. Not only was he trying to save his team’s Champions League hopes, but he was auditioning. The season is only going to get tougher from here, but Pulisic showed just how well he can handle the pressure. His goal was an audacious chip that requires tremendous skill to pull off. Pulisic seems to be brimming with confidence. He also managed an assist on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opening goal.
It was one-way traffic for nearly all of Dortmund’s 4-0 win over Benfica, and Pulisic was at the heart of much of it. His reading of the game was excellent and his link up play with his teammates could fool you into thinking these players have been together for years. Pulisic and Aubameyang became a great partnership up top. It all comes back to Pulisic’s goal, however. The composure to do what he did as an 18-year-old in the game’s greatest club competition is remarkable. To put a cherry on his performance, his second-half goal ended up being the goal that sent Dortmund to the quarterfinal.
Young players can sometimes lose themselves in big occasions. Perhaps they try to do too much and end up forcing mistakes. But at 18 years of age, Pulisic displayed the poise of a veteran on one of soccer’s biggest stages. With Reus injured for the foreseeable future, Pulisic should be given an even bigger chance to perform. It’s hard to see him wasting the opportunity.