When Ousmane Dembele fired home Borussia Dortmund's first penalty in the shootout against Bayern Munich in the DFL Supercup at the start of August, Christian Pulisic was watching from the bench. The U.S. international had opened the scoring in Germany's domestic curtain-raiser, but was sacrificed for fresh legs in extra-time after 90 minutes playing on the left wing.
Two weeks later when Dortmund kicked off their Bundesliga season, Dembele was suspended from the team as he forced a move to Barcelona, with Pulisic starting their opening weekend win over Wolfsburg on his preferred right wing. Once again, the 18-year-old scored the opening goal, controlling a pass from Mario Gotze before finding the far corner of the net.
Pulisic's goal was a fine finish, but his assist for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's strike was even better. Bursting past a defender after picking up Lukasz Piszczek's knockdown, he delivered a low ball across the area, perfectly weighted for last season's top scorer to open his 2017-18 account.
After his excellent performance in the opening game, Pulisic kept his place on the right side of attack for the win over Hertha Berlin the following week, just a day after Dembele's €147 million move to Barcelona was announced. Dortmund won 2-0 to go to the top of the Bundesliga, with five goals scored and none conceded in their first two games under new boss Peter Bosz.
The international break came at the wrong time for BVB, with their winning run coming to an end on Saturday as they were frustrated in a 0-0 draw with Freiburg. Despite this, Bosz's side are still top of the pile and are full of confidence heading into their Champions League opener with Tottenham.
Having signed as a 16-year-old for BVB, Pulisic's impact in Germany has been phenomenal. He was involved in 18 goals in 15 games for their youth teams, earning promotion to the senior setup, where in April 2016 he became the youngest non-German player to score in the Bundesliga. After playing nine league games in his first season, Pulisic became more involved under Thomas Tuchel last year, but just 15 of his 29 games were starts thanks to Dortmund's abundance of attacking players.
As well as their differing playing styles – the Frenchman used his pace and trickery and the American was more measured and deliberate – Dembele's presence on the right side of the field also meant that Tuchel often brought Pulisic on in the final minutes or deployed him in a more central position. However, with the France international now at Camp Nou, the American attacker should be able to make the right-wing position his own. Not only that, his pure skill and prodigious talent means Pulisic can become the superstar Dortmund fans were hoping for in Dembele.
Although it is only a small sample size of three games, and Dortmund are yet to play their title rivals like Bayern Munich or RB Leipzig, Pulisic's stats have shown a dramatic improvement from last season. He was already impressive as a rotation option, chipping in with three goals and six assists compared to Dembele's six goals and 12 assists in 2016-17. Already, Pulisic has a goal and assist for BVB, with his minutes-per-goal rate dropped to 266 from 505.
Pulisic's passing has also improved to 83 per cent from last season's 74% (for comparison, Dembele ended the campaign with a 67% success rate), while his crossing accuracy has improved from one-in-five to one-in-two in the early stages of the current campaign. But, like all wonderkids, the attacker is not merely satisfied with his current output. After scoring in the league opener, Pulisic downplayed his goal and is hoping to further develop under new manager Bosz.
"I would probably give my goal a B grade," he told reporters. "Marc [Bartra]'s goal was a little bit better, an A for his effort. Of course, and it's just the beginning of the season, so we want to continue to get better and better. I think it was a really good showing today, and yeah, I think we're understanding [Bosz] very well."
For the U.S., Pulisic has been a phenomenon. He is the youngest international goalscorer of the modern era, their youngest scorer in World Cup qualifying and has bagged seven goals in 18 appearances, quickly becoming one of the USMNT's key players . Due to his amazing talent at a young age, hype follows him with his national team, where everyone has high hopes that he can get better and better.
However, nobody wants Pulisic to improve more than the teenager himself. "I just try to do the best I can for myself and the people around me," he told reporters. "I think I have a lot of things to improve on, from just growing physically and being stronger to continue to improve on doing what I do best, going at defenders, finding new ways to attack defenses and help my team on the offensive side.”
With Dembele gone from Borussia Dortmund, there is nothing stopping Pulisic from become the next great superstar. Not just in America, but worldwide.