Christian Pulisic joined exclusive company on Tuesday with his appearance for Chelsea in the Champions League semifinals, becoming just the third U.S. men's national team player to feature on such a lofty stage—and the first to score on it.
Pulisic joined Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig, 2020) and DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven, 2005) with his showing vs. Real Madrid in the first leg of their semifinal clash, and he scored the opener to put Chelsea on the right path in a 1-1 draw. Pulisic joins Beasley as the only U.S. players to start a semifinal match, as Adams came off the bench for Leipzig vs. PSG last season following his heroic goal in the quarterfinals that clinched the club's place in the final four.
Pulisic's appearance comes nearly 16 years to the day Beasley started vs. AC Milan in a series that PSV ultimately lost on the away-goal tiebreaker. Pulisic will hope for a different fate, which could present him with the opportunity to become the first U.S. player in a Champions League final. Jovan Kirovski was part of Borussia Dortmund's Champions League–winning team in 1997, but he did not feature for the club that deep in its title run.
On Tuesday, Pulisic very nearly helped give Chelsea the lead in the ninth minute, teeing up Timo Werner for an early point-blank chance only to have Thibaut Courtois make the save.
He wound up taking matters into his own hands five minutes later, taking a long ball down from Antonio Rüdiger, rounding Courtois and showing his composure in the box before finishing for a key away goal. In doing so, he became the first U.S. player to score against Real Madrid and he became the highest-scoring U.S. player in Champions League play with five goals.
Pulisic, who called the goal a "proud moment" in his postmatch remarks, exited as part of a triple substitution in the 66th minute, with Chelsea level at 1-1 following Karim Benzema's 29th-minute equalizer.
Pulisic has endured an up-and-down season at Chelsea, one beset by injuries and then required him to win back his place under Thomas Tuchel, who was the coach that gave him his first-team break when the two were together at Dortmund. He's rounded into form recently, with three goals in his previous six appearances, including a pair against Crystal Palace in Premier League play on April 10.
"I feel very confident in my body and fitness level at the moment," Pulisic said on Monday in his prematch comments. "I have played a string of games. I had some time out in the past year and a bit. It is really just about taking care of my body and putting myself in the best position to be available for every game. I feel good about that right now."
Before Tuesday's strike, Pulisic had one goal in the Champions League this season, which came against Krasnodar in the group stage. His most significant Champions League goal in his brief career to date came in the 2017 knockout stage when he helped Dortmund get by Benfica in the round of 16.
His latest goal adds to what's been a history-making season abroad for U.S. men's national team players. Man City goalkeeper Zack Steffen became the fourth American to win the League Cup with his shutout of Tottenham last Sunday (he's expected to be City's backup vs. PSG in the other Champions League semifinal on Wednesday). Sergiño Dest became the first U.S. international to win the Copa del Rey after helping Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao earlier this month. In January, Weston McKennie won the Italian Super Cup with Juventus, while this past weekend, Mark McKenzie won the Belgian Cup title with Genk.
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