My son and I walked through the gates at Stamford Bridge Stadium and a wave of loud chants washed over us. I’ve been to many stadiums, but have never encountered a Premier League crowd before. We could feel the noise and excitement in our chests. The game was already underway. As we walked towards our seats, my 11-year-old son pointed ahead and excitedly yelled, “There’s Pulisic!”
7 years ago, my oldest son and I were watching the USMNT play. A 17-year-old Christian Pulisic was on our tv. My son explained to me that Pulisic scored in his last game for the USMNT and that he started playing for Borussia Dortmund at 16. At that moment, the hero from Hershey, Pennsylvania, became a hero in my house. We focused on him during every game, followed write-ups about him, and purchased his jerseys and posters. We followed his career with Dortmund and were excited when he signed to play for Chelsea in the Premier League. When he received the coveted “10” jersey, we quickly bought replicas.
Pulisic was given the nickname “Captain America” by teammates and fans as his career skyrocketed. In my home, another person was growing and would receive the same nickname. My oldest son had dreams of one day playing pro soccer. And by most accounts, he was on that trajectory. I coached him until he was 13, until I needed to pass him off to a better coach. From that time, all his coaches spoke to me about his drive, athleticism, hard work, intelligent play, and strong physical form. I dreamed of the day that Pulisic and my son would pass to one another on the USMNT.
On his high school team is where he was called “Captain America.” He received it for several reasons. He played smart, was great, and seemed to do and say the right things at important times. He was someone his teammates and his school counted on. Dreams shifted during his high school days. He stopped talking about being a pro soccer athlete and instead focused on joining the Army. The “Captain America” nickname suited him even more. When he wasn’t playing soccer, he was working out to get his body ready to serve his country. When he joined the volleyball team his senior year, the crowd would chant, “USA” when he walked up to the line to serve the ball.
Then, after graduating high school, he shipped off to serve his country.
When my youngest son and I sat in our seats in Stamford Bridge, I leaned into my son and said, “I wish your brother was here to see this.” When my oldest was in basic training, I would give him updates about what’s going on in the sports’ world. He couldn’t watch the World Cup during basic training, so when he was allowed phone privileges, I would recap USMNT games, and we talked often about Pulisic’s games. On the day we were sitting in the stands to watch Chelsea and Pulisic play, my other son started Army Ranger training. Sitting in the stands at the Chelsea match, I wished there were 3 of us and not 2. We missed the one who put us on the Pulisic bandwagon.
It was a beautiful day inside Stamford Bridge. The sun was shining and we cheered, chanted, and yelled. The hero of my house was just feet away from us, running up and down the sidelines. Sadly, Chelsea lost. Chelsea had a horrible season from the jump and it appears Pulisic will not wear a Chelsea kit much longer.
Going to see Chelsea and Pulisic play was just as much about who was at the game as who wasn’t. There are many times that I miss my oldest son, but by God, did I miss him at the Chelsea match. I had dreamed his entire life about taking him to a Premier game or a LaLiga match before he graduated high school, but I never got the opportunity.
My youngest son, who worships his older brother, agreed with me, wishing his brother was there. But he wasn’t, so we enjoyed the game as much as we could. The experience was fantastic. Even though Chelsea lost, we got to see our other hero. When Pulisic was pulled out of the game, we groaned along with many others in the stands. We wanted to see more. Pulisic will by most accounts be gone at the end of the year and we’ll follow him to his next team and buy new jerseys. And when he’s back with the USMNT, we’ll wear our US jerseys and root him on. And maybe one day, I’ll sit next to my oldest in the stands and we can cheer on the other Captain America together.
Or maybe, my oldest and I will watch our youngest pass to Pulisic. There’s another dream brewing in my home.
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