GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Nick Deren has a pretty unique way of motivating his youth soccer teams to do what he says.
“You know Christian Pulisic?” he’ll ask. “Well, I used to coach him.”
Just the mention of Pulisic’s name usually does the trick, he says. The 24-year-old is arguably the most recognizable player on the United States Men’s National Soccer Team that is getting ready for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Pulisic is among only seven American-born players who are on Premier League teams, one of the top soccer organizations in the world. Since joining Chelsea in 2019, he has left a mark on international competition, including helping Chelsea win the 2021 UEFA Champions League.
Before joining the Premier League and leading the USMNT, he was dominating for the Michigan Rush youth development program. While Deren would love to take responsibility for Pulisic’s success, he admits the then-7-year-old had skills well beyond his age.
“He could go coast to coast at any time,” Deren said. “It was like watching Michael Jordan or Kobe (Bryant) playing.”
The team was already good but the addition of Pulisic made them “untouchable,” according to Deren. He remembers the team would regularly be up 10 to 15 goals on their opponents and he’d have to ask the team, specifically a young Pulisic, to tone it down.
“He just embarrassed everyone,” Deren said. “After all these years it’s still talked about in the league.”
But Pulisic may have never become the force he was with the Michigan Rush if it hadn’t been for his father Mark Pulisic. The Pulisics moved to Michigan after years in Pennsylvania and England, where his mother is from. Mark Pulisic decided to take a job with the Detroit Ignition, a professional soccer team in the now-defunct Major Indoor Soccer League.
After moving to Wolverine State, Mark Pulisic went to Deren and the other coaches at Michigan Rush, showed them a video of his son playing and asked if he could join the team.
“It’s a funny story,” Deren said. “Obviously we told him he could play. It wasn’t even a question after watching that.”
Deren still keeps in touch with the Pulisics. He texted Mark Pulisic after Christian Pulisic and Chelsea won the Champions League. In turn, he was gifted a one-of-a-kind selfie of the Pulisics and the trophy.
Deren credits Christian Pulisics’s parents for keeping him focused on soccer, even by not letting him play soccer.
“His parents are some of the best humans alive,” Deren said. “They made him play other sports so he wouldn’t get burnt out and bored.”
Pulisic still spent the next years playing soccer on teams with and against kids up to two years older than him and still scoring four to five goals per game before eventually moving to Pennsylvania and to Europe to further his career.
Fans are counting on Pulisic to come through this World Cup after the USMNT failed to qualify for the tournament in 2018. This is a redemption tour for the players, including Pulisic, who is expected to be the catalyst for the team. In 52 appearances with the USMNT, Pulisic has scored 21 goals.
“He’s going to have to carry the team,” Deren said. “If he can get some help, they can go far.”
No matter the final outcome, Deren said that Pulisic is still an important role model for the sport of soccer, specifically here in the U.S.
“He’s showing kids that the dream is possible. That they don’t have to go to Europe, they can grow and develop here,” he said.
The USMNT will play Wales Monday before a showdown with England on Friday. They finish group play against Iran on Nov. 29.