Soccer’s ‘Captain America’ Pulisic sharpened skills as youth on Canton, Northville pitches

 Soccer’s ‘Captain America’ Pulisic sharpened skills as youth on Canton, Northville pitches

Young Christian Pulisic dribbles past an opponent during his stint as a member of the Michigan Rush Northville squad. Photo courtesy of Michigan Rush Northville

As her elementary school-aged son Christian dominated soccer players two years older than him while starring for the Michigan Rush Northville club team in 2008, Kelley Pulisic videotaped many of the games from the sidelines.

“When I asked Christian’s dad (Mark Pulisic) if this was a learning tool — if they’d go home after the games and watch the video — he said, ‘No, we’re sending the videotapes to Barcelona (Spain) scouts’,” recalled Eric Rudland, who coached Christian Pulisic for two seasons during his youth.

“During his second year with us, I remember Christian leaving for 10 days or so to play for Barcelona. It was pretty obvious even at that young age that he was a special player.”

The Pulisic family from left Christian Kelley Devyn Mark and Chase
The Pulisic family from left Christian Kelley Devyn Mark and Chase

Currently rostered by Chelsea in Europe’s Premier League, Pulisic used his experience with the Rush as a springboard to stardom.

He played for the United States national teams at the U-15 and U-17 levels, serving as captain for the U-17 team at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Breaking records early

On March 27, 2016, Pulisic was called up to the U.S. senior team. Two days later, he made his debut, becoming the youngest American to play in a World Cup qualifier. A short time later he became the youngest player to score for the U.S. in the modern era, finding the net in a 4-0 friendly victory against Bolivia.

The Pulisic family moved to Canton from England in 2006 — Christian attended Workman Elementary School — when Mark Pulisic was hired as the head coach of the Detroit Ignition, a Major Indoor Soccer League team that played its home games in Plymouth Township.

“Before the family moved to (Canton), they did their homework on the area’s club teams — and there are some good ones to choose from — and they liked the balance the Rush offered,” Rudland said. “Obviously, we trained quite a bit, but we also encouraged our players to be involved in activities outside of soccer, too.

“Christian’s parents also liked they we offered him an opportunity to play one and two age groups up.”

Fourteen years after first observing Pulisic’s off-the-charts skills, current Rush President/Coach Steve McGuirk still remembers the traits that made the youngster stand out.

Christian Pulisic celebrates a goal during a match
Christian Pulisic celebrates a goal during a match

“The first thing you noticed about Christian back then was that he was 18 inches shorter than everybody else,” McGuirk said. “The second thing you noticed was that he was the fastest player out there.

“I also remember his dad was one of the best soccer parents I’ve ever dealt with, which is one reason Christian grew into the player he has become.”

Rudland said the young Pulisic’s pitch presence was stunning.

“He was always super comfortable on the ball,” Rudland reflected. “It was like the ball was glued to his foot. He was so good at navigating through bigger players than him with his superior dribbling ability.

“Christian was tenacious, too, back then. He didn’t back down from anything.”

Humble by nature

Away from the pitch, Rudland said Pulisic was quiet, “definitely not loud and seeking attention.”

“What I loved was that his parents challenged him to do things outside of soccer,” Rudland continued. “For instance, he played basketball. They didn’t encourage the specialization in one sport you see a lot today.”

In October, Pulisic released an autobiography: Pulisic: My Journey So Far.

And what a journey it has been — one that was impacted by life-changing experiences in Canton and Northville.

Ed Wright

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