It may have come a day after Christian Pulisic's actual birthday, but his nod as a nominee for the prestigious Golden Boy award is still a birthday present the American should feel proud of.
Monday felt like an unofficial American soccer holiday, with Pulisic's birthday generating plenty of acknowledgment from fans, teammates and media, but Tuesday's news that he was one of 25 nominees for the Golden Boy award — honoring the top European-based player younger than 21 — was the best present of them all.
No, he isn't going to win the award — Kylian Mbappe has both hands on that prize — but Pulisic being a nominee puts his amazing year into the kind of broader perspective it is tough to gain from inside the American soccer fishbowl.
If you take a look at the lists of finalists for the award, which is presented annually by Italian newspaper Tuttosport and voted on by media from across Europe, you realize two things. First, that his exploits with Borussia Dortmund have resonated beyond Germany and the United States. Second, you realize that he's not only deserving of the nomination, but he's one of the better candidates on the list.
This isn't a case of Pulisic being good for an American, or being compared to the modest measuring sticks available in American soccer history. He is being acknowledged as one of the best young players in Europe. While most Americans already assumed to be true, now they've been given more evidence to support that belief.
Pulisic's exploits, both in Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League play, have turned heads throughout the year, and after announcing himself on European soccer's biggest stages last season, he has picked up where he left off this season. That really shouldn't have come as a surprise, but there is still something almost too good to be true about Pulisic's meteoric rise, particularly when put in the context of American soccer.
Another good thing about the Golden Boy award is that it's a distinction that compares him to his peers, rather than to history and to legendary players who have already put together lengthy resumes. There is no point drawing those sorts of comparisons just yet, not with a player who is just in his second full year on the world stage. It is no secret that, at 19, he is considerably further along than any American before him, but it's also true that present-day success does not guarantee future success.
We need look no further than to the Golden Boy Award's 2016 winner, Renato Sanches, for a reminder how quickly things can change. A year ago he was shining on Portugal's championship Euros team, and making a big-money move to Bayern Munich. Now, after struggling to break through at Bayern last season, he's on loan at Swansea and enduring a slow start to a new league, and drawing much less buzz as a future superstar than he was a year ago.
Sanches' story is a reminder that the European soccer machine is an unforgiving one, and it helps produce the world's best talent specifically because of just how difficult it is. It is that pressure cooker that has helped mold Pulisic and bring him along more quickly than any American teenager before him, and it is that same pressure cooker that will keep testing him.
Watching Pulisic rise to that challenge is what has helped captivate the imagination of American soccer fans who have spent decades waiting for one of their own to ascend to the game's highest levels and shine there. We just aren't used to seeing young Americans taking on the likes of Real Madrid in Champions League matches, or lifting European trophies like the DFB Pokal he helped Borussia Dortmund win last spring. That's why American soccer fans have become enamored with Pulisic's early accomplishments, much like the serially unlucky blackjack player who finally wins big and can't stop counting their chips.
Pulisic probably isn't spending too much time keeping his own personal check list of accomplishments — that's what fans, media and parents are for — but he should take some time to process his Golden Boy nomination, the company it puts him in and what it says about the year he is having. As far as birthday presents go, it's a pretty good one.