American in El Clasico? Pulisic 'one step away' from joining likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid

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As the Spanish giants renew one of the world's great rivalries, Americans are left to wonder when one of their own might play in the big game

Even though it won't be kicking off until around 7 a.m. on the East Coast of the United States — and the brutal hour of 4 a.m. on the West Coast — Real Madrid's clash with Barcelona on Saturday will still lead thousands of Americans to flock to televisions, coffee in hand, to watch what many believe to be the greatest club rivalry in the world.

At least a few of those sleepy Americans will watch stars from Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, Croatia, Portugal, and even Costa Rica, and wonder if one of their own might one day suit up and play in the most high-profile league match in the world.

How far away are we from seeing that happen? The reality is we are closer than we have ever been because of the emergence of Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulisic, who has seen his value skyrocket faster than Bitcoin and has made talk of a U.S. international moving to a mega club like Barcelona or Real Madrid seem less like a pipe dream and more realistic than ever before.

"I think Christian [Pulisic] is maybe one move away from the possibility of being at one of those clubs," U.S. Under-20 national team coach Tab Ramos told Goal. "I certainly feel like he can play there, so I think it's a matter of time whether he winds up at one of those clubs or he goes to the Premier League.

"He certainly has to continue to improve, but at 19, to be where he is right now, he's only one step away."

Ramos Pulisic quote

A move to one of the Spanish powerhouses feels like more of a possibility given how well Pulisic has already played against Real Madrid on multiple occasions. Dortmund has been in Real Madrid's UEFA Champions League group in each of the past two seasons and Pulisic, who counts Madrid legend Luis Figo as an idol, has turned in some memorable performances against the Liga champions.

His most recent exploits, earlier this month in a Dortmund loss to Real Madrid, showed us a fearless young player who seems to thrive when the lights are the brightest, even nutmegging Sergio Ramos and slaloming through the Madrid defense on multiple occasions.

Pulisic has made it a habit of stepping up his game against Dortmund's biggest opponents, and it's that habit of shining against top competition that has top European clubs taking notice and has led some in Germany to see him as an inevitable Bayern Munich target.

That's a reasonable progression to make if Pulisic can continue to impress in Bundesliga play, but even that is still an early jump to be talking about because the reality is he has yet to put together a full year as a first-choice starter.

Christian Pulisic Sergio Ramos Dortmund Real Madrid

That hasn't stopped Pulisic from being linked to eight-figure offers by clubs such as Liverpool, but as former U.S. national team star and current television analyst Brian McBride noted during the summer, the belief is that Pulisic isn't looking to make a move at the moment.

"I think the issue for Christian is he's at Dortmund, which is a pretty big club to begin with, and he's playing," Ramos said. "There's a lot of value to that, so I'm not sure that making the move at 19 years old to Madrid or Barcelona, where you're possibly playing 15 games a year instead of 40. I don't know if that's necessarily good for him at the moment.

"Look, hopefully he goes to Barcelona or Madrid and plays every game, but if that's not the case, do you really want to be playing 15 games a year," Ramos added. "I think he thinks about that — and this is not from speaking with him, but just reading some of the interviews he's done — and I think he's leaning toward that kind of thought, that, 'Hey, I want to keep playing and the time will come.'"

Ramos is no stranger to soccer in Spain, having spent part of his career playing at Real Betis in the 1990s when the club was in the Spanish second division. The former U.S. national team standout helped the club earn promotion to La Liga in 1994, but missed the subsequent season while recovering from a skull fracture suffered during the 1994 World Cup.

Ramos counts one of his best experiences as a player being when he helped Real Betis upset Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey quarterfinals in 1994.

"I think we crossed midfield one time, and we beat them and knocked them out of the cup," Ramos said. "That was the Michael Laudrup, Romario, Ronald Koeman team.

"Playing at the Camp Nou was amazing because of all the stadiums I'd played at, I'd never been on a field that was so big," Ramos continued. "The width of the field was so big that I thought, 'Man, if I tried to switch a ball here I don't think I can reach the other side.' The field was humongous. And obviously the speed of the game was so fast. It was an amazing experience, for sure."

Ramos knows the challenges that can exist for American players making the move to Spain, and sees Pulisic being well-equipped to handle the demands that such a move would put on him.

Christian Pulisic Borussia Dortmund

"Christian doesn't seem to be bothered by pressure," Ramos said. "Obviously playing at Real Madrid or Barcelona is different than playing at Dortmund, because in general the Spanish press can be very negative and the fans can be very negative, and that's difficult to deal with.

"Having said that, I was there when we put Christian on the national team for the first time, and he was completely calm. He wasn't nervous, and didn't look any different than he did in practice. You see that in the big games he plays, the pressure doesn't bother him."

As enticing as it might be to have an American like Pulisic at Madrid or Barcelona, both teams have plenty of examples of youngsters who made moves there only to see their career development stunted by a lack of playing time on some of the most talented teams in the world.

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"Think of [Martin] Odegaard," Ramos said, referring to the Norwegian super prospect signed by Real Madrid in 2015. "He went to Madrid, young guy who is supposed to be the next huge talent of the world, bigger than Christian was when he went to Dortmund, and he went to Madrid and completely disappeared.

"You wouldn't want your player in that environment. He's at a great club now, and he's under pressure and doing well with it. I would like to see him stay there one more year and play every game, and then make a move.

"There's always going to be a move for (Pulisic), because he's a good player. It's not like he's going to get worse. He's going to get better."

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