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Five Aside: The best U.S. player right now, Christian Pulisic, turns 19

On Christian Pulisic's 19th birthday, Brian McBride says the teenager is on the path to becoming the best U.S. player ever.
The FC crew mark Christian Pulisic's 19th birthday by evaluating his progress and his ceiling for both club and country.

Christian Pulisic is widely considered the best American male soccer player right now. He's been the most important U.S. player during this World Cup qualifying cycle and also starts for one of the world's top club teams in the world's top club competitions. And he turns 19 years old this Monday.

So how good have things been for the U.S. phenom over the past 365 days?

How good is Pulisic? How good is Borussia Dortmund?

- Pulisic is a regular starter on the wing for Borussia Dortmund. He's started five of six games in all competitions this season for Dortmund, which leads the Bundesliga and has already won the German Super Cup, in which Pulisic became the first American to score in that preseason showpiece.

- Dortmund is considered the second-best team in the Bundesliga (behind Bayern Munich) and one of the 10-15 best clubs in the world. Dortmund is seventh in FiveThirtyEight's global soccer rankings, while Forbes this year valued Dortmund at $808 million, the world's 12th-most valuable club. Last season, Dortmund reached the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, the world's top club competition.

- Pulisic's final game before turning 19 was Sunday's 5-0 win against Cologne, in which he came on as a second-half substitute. He then has two more league games before resuming Champions League play against two-time defending champion Real Madrid.

- In 44 career Bundesliga games (14th-most by a U.S. international), Pulisic has six goals (tied for sixth-most). If he plays every game the rest of the season, he'd crack the top 10 on the U.S. list and could also become the fourth American with 10 career Bundesliga goals.

- Pulisic is the youngest non-German and fourth-youngest player to score in the Bundesliga (April 17, 2016 vs Hamburg), and is the youngest player with two career Bundesliga goals (April 23, 2016).

What else has he done before turning 19?

- Pulisic has already done more as a teenager than any other American man. Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated ranked him 13th in the world among players under the age of 20. Comparing Pulisic to two other top American attackers at the same age: Neither Landon Donovan nor Clint Dempsey played a first-team professional game before turning 19. Donovan debuted in MLS a month after turning 19, and Dempsey was a Furman University freshman at that age.

- No one is saying Pulisic is near the level of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but his club and country numbers before turning 19 do compare favorably with both.

Pulisic stacks up quite well against two of the all-time greats at this age.

- Including Wednesday, Pulisic has already played 11 UEFA Champions League games, fourth-most by any American international and nearly halfway to the U.S. record held by Jermaine Jones (23). He made his UCL debut at 17, making him the youngest American to play in UEFA Champions League.

- His round-of-16 goal against Benfica in March made him one of three U.S. internationals to score in the UEFA Champions League knockout stage (Jones, DaMarcus Beasley), and he became the first American with a goal and an assist in a UCL knockout game. From there, he became the fourth American to play in the UCL quarterfinals.

Pulisic has already hit several big milestones before turning 19 this Monday. How far can he go?

How important is Pulisic to the United States?

- Pulisic has played in 11 of the United States' 14 World Cup qualifiers during this cycle. His five open-play goals are tied for the team lead, and he leads the team with five assists and 22 shots. He also brings a dynamic that few other on the team offer: a willingness to take on opponents. His 68 one-on-ones are 40 more than anyone else on the team.

- Opponents are starting to key on him defensively. In the final round of qualifying, he's been fouled 17 times, six more than any other American.

- The U.S. continues World Cup qualifying on Oct. 6 in a virtual must-win at home against Panama and concludes at Trinidad & Tobago on Oct. 10. Right now, the U.S. is fourth in the Hex, holding what would be a playoff berth against Australia or Syria. Winning the final two games virtually guarantees the U.S. an automatic World Cup spot.

- Pulisic has done all this as the youngest player on the team. He's the youngest American ever to play in a World Cup qualifier and the youngest American man to score an international goal (both at age 17 in 2016).

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