For years, American soccer fans have desired that one breakout star thrust the sport into the mainstream while playing for a major European club. Every player that has been described as the “next big thing” by fans of US Soccer has tended to fall short of the lofty expectations placed on him. Most have been perfectly good professionals, capable of playing for mid level European clubs or excelling in Major League Soccer. But none seemingly have had the meteoric rise, potential and circumstance of Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic who turned 18 on Sunday.
Borussia Dortmund is arguably one of the most exciting attacking sides in European soccer. Yet remarkably at age 17, Pulisic broke into the first team and made nine league appearances toward the end of last season scoring twice as the Dortmund-based club finished second in the German Bundesliga. The two league goals made the Pennsylvania native the youngest ever foreigner to score in the Bundesliga and the youngest ever player to score twice. Pulisic’s quick rise earned him a call up to the US Men’s National Team. And at age 17, he became a core-player in the setup employed by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Pulsic’s performances this summer in the Copa America raised eyebrows. But more importantly, his efforts for both the United States and Dortmund in the last two and a half weeks have raised his profile considerably. He scored twice in the US’ win at St Vincent, then was the single most dominant player in the 4-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago in Jacksonville. Afterwards, Pulisic returned to Germany and started both a Champions League and Bundesliga match, recording an assist in the former and a goal and an assist in the latter.
With an average of less than 100,000 viewers per Bundesliga game, FOX Sports has failed to develop the sort of audience that will help the league grow on US television and among American fans. Some of this is unfortunate circumstance. Bundesliga matches air on television concurrent with matches from the far more popular Premier League. But the Bundesliga has also failed to capitalize on the presence of US Men’s National Team stars playing in the league. It’s not too late though. Today is a different point in time and fewer American stars are plying their trade in England, while Germany is becoming a destination league for many up-and-coming American soccer stars.
This season, five of the top six clubs in the Bundesliga table sport an American first team player. That’s a remarkable statistic given the struggles Americans have had in Europe recently. Though it is still very early in the season, the context and storylines are present to catapult the Bundesliga into the consciousness of American fans.
It’s not just the core American audience who watches English soccer that the Bundesliga needs to try and conquer. With such relevance for the US Men’s National Team, the Bundesliga and FOX Sports could target the USA fans who don’t watch professional club soccer. By focusing their attention on those fans, it’ll be an easier sell than trying to win over many of the hardcore soccer fans who have seemingly chosen the Premier League. With every passing season, it appears the English top flight league’s hold on the American soccer audience strengthens. Outside of the European leagues, Liga MX remains far and away the most popular league on US television.
But the Bundesliga and FOX Sports might have the potential now to win over core USMNT fans. Perhaps if Pulisic’s meteoric rise continues, he can help gain a foothold among the mainstream sports audience in the United States that still hasn’t gravitated to the Major League Soccer or the Premier League. With the potential for a mainstream superstar of world soccer hailing from Pennsylvania, the Bundesliga and soccer’s time on American television could be right around the corner.
It’s difficult to overstate the potential impact Pulisic could have in the United States if his trajectory continues as is. But it’s perhaps unfair to pin the weight of the world on someone who just turned 18. But in Christian Pulisic, American soccer might have its first global superstar and in-turn the Bundesliga might have the single most marketable commodity to an American audience.
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