This weekend, Charlotte gets its turn to enjoy the Christian Pulisic experience.
Pulisic, the 19-year-old face of American soccer, will be in town this weekend for the International Champions Cup match at Bank of America Stadium between his Borussia Dortmund side and Liverpool. The game, which kicks off Sunday at 4 p.m. and will be shown on ESPN, marks the third time in four years that the ICC has played a match in Charlotte.
Pulisic spoke to the Observer Saturday afternoon about his expectations for Sunday’s game against Liverpool, handling international fame, his relationship with LeBron James and more.
The interview, edited for grammar and brevity, is below:
Q. Have you ever been to Charlotte before?
A. I don’t think so. I’ve been to the airport quite a lot (laughs). But other than that, I don’t really think I’ve been to Charlotte.
Q. What’s your first impression, then?
A. It’s hot down here (laughs). No, but I’m looking forward to it. I don’t really know too much about it, but I know it’s a nice place.
Q. What is it like for you being back in the United States and able to play on home soil, and with a German team?
A. It’s been really special for me to be back here and see the support, the Dortmund support, and so many fans coming out, being there for us. It’s been crazy to see how much the sport and our team has grown in the U.S., and it’s been fun to see.
Yeah, it does (surprise me how much the game has grown). Definitely.
Q. LeBron James posted a picture on Instagram of himself wearing your jersey. What’s your relationship with (the NBA star) like, and how did that photo come to exist?
A. He was pretty much my favorite athlete growing up, and he inspires me a lot. It was crazy to see him rocking my jersey, and pretty cool as you might imagine.
I did something with the (United States) national team and Nike helped me out to send him a jersey, sent him a little note, and it was real nice to see that he got it.
Q. Did he ever reach out to you personally to tell you he’d gotten it or to say ‘thank you’?
A. Not yet, other than the Instagram post. We’ll have to see.
Of course I was shocked when I first saw it. Everyone started sending it to me, and I was like, “I saw it!” How could I have missed it? So yeah, that was pretty cool.
Q. You’re getting the chance to play against your former manager, Jurgen Klopp. What is your relationship like with him, and what about that matchup are you most looking forward to?
A. He was a great coach for me. Obviously I had just started getting some trainings in with the pros when he was still at Dortmund, and he was great to me. Always treated me well. He accepted me into the team, and I’ll always be thankful for that, so I’m looking forward to getting to see him (Sunday). So it’ll be fun. We know they have a good team, so it’ll be a good game. Not an easy one (laughs).
Q. What has this summer been like for you? Was it pretty heavy on the training, or did you have some free time to relax and get away?
A. Yeah, there’s definitely some down time. I took a few weeks completely off, got my mind completely away from the game, but yeah, then after that, I kind of had to get my body right and get ready for the season. I went back at it, training and everything, but I definitely feel refreshed, though.
I spent pretty much most of the summer in the U.S., got to spend a couple of weeks at home in Hershey (Pennsylvania). I took some trips around, went to see some friends, doing some other things. The best place was Hershey, still just being at home.
Q. What’s it like for you coming back to the United States and seeing thousands of fans wearing your jersey? You’re sort of the face of American soccer — does that still register to you?
A. I guess it is pretty crazy now with how normal it feels. Because I had that from a young age, you know, especially being with the national team and everything. But I’ve learned to deal with it. It’s nothing that’s too much for me. I love it. I love the support. It only helps me, so it’s really, really amazing.
Q. When did it start feeling normal to you?
A. I don’t know. It wasn’t like a switch got flipped or anything, you know? I guess it sort of just got lost over time. ... I don’t know. It just kind of happened. Especially after a couple of games, it just sort of starts to feel normal.
Q. Major League Soccer expansion is a hot topic right now, and while that doesn’t affect you directly, your success does help to spread the game and make soccer more popular in the United States — how do you see that role of yours?
A. Yeah, I think that’s a big goal of mine. If I can inspire kids to do what I do — want to become professional soccer players — then I think that that’s everything I want to do.
I just want to take it to a new level that no one’s seen before. I want to inspire kids, and yeah, if that helps with expansion teams — in the MLS or anything like that — but my main goal is just to inspire. Try and inspire our youth.
Q. What are you expecting from this game against Liverpool?
A. We’re expecting a really good Liverpool side to come out, and we definitely know they’re going to compete. They want to win, as well. It’s going to be a really tough game, but we definitely want to win.