Christian Pulisic Talks Signing to Puma and Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup

U.S. men's national team and Chelsea star Christian Pulisic talks leaving Nike to sign to Puma, whether the U.S. will qualify for the World Cup, and sneakers.

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Christian Pulisic holding the Puma Ultra 1.3. Image via Puma

Christian Pulisic 1

Christian Pulisic, America’s most expensive soccer export, is now a Puma athlete. In a deal announced today, Pulisic has signed a long-term partnership with the German sportswear company. Pulisic, who was previously signed to Nike, will be one of the faces of Puma’s Ultra 1.3 football boot. 

There’s a lot going on for the 22-year-old Hershey, Pennsylvania native. He won the UEFA Champions League with his club Chelsea this year, becoming the first American player to do so. He also helped the U.S. men’s national team beat Mexico in the Nations League final in June, scoring the winning goal on a penalty kick in extra time. With World Cup qualifying set to kick off next month, there’s a lot of weight on Pulisic’s shoulders as the captain of the U.S. That’s a far cry from his role on the team during the country’s failed attempt to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

We got the chance to talk Pulisic ahead of the announcement, discussing the deal, the U.S. winning the Gold Cup and Nations League both against Mexico, whether or not he’s a sneakerhead, and what he thinks about coach Gregg Berhalter wearing so many sneakers as of late.

Congrats on the Puma deal. I know you were a Nike athlete for a long time. How did this deal happen?
Puma just fit in with exactly the message that I want to send. I think we’re trying to inspire players just to get out and play any way they can and play the game and grow the game of soccer in America. And it lined up exactly with what I was feeling and it just seemed like a perfect fit.

Was it a big courting deal to make this happen?
No, I think it was a pretty smooth transition. I just think it seemed like a very easy choice for me. So I’m glad that that went very smoothly.

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When something like this happens, do other Puma athletes, like Neymar or something, send you a text and say, “Hey, welcome to the team”? Have you gotten any of that yet?
Well, maybe not from him yet. I think all the athletes have been very friendly and I’ve already had a word with a couple of them. So they’ve been very friendly to me.

Are there any plans to give you your own sneaker or your own signature cleat? Have you had any discussions like that yet?
Yeah. So they’ve actually created my own, basically this signature [logo]. It’s a really cool graphic that they did for me. And I was blown away right when I saw it to mix with the name and the brand. And yeah, they’re going to give me just a lot of freedom within the brand. And I think it’s going to be a very good fit.

Do you feel like you’re going to be able to have more input with Puma than you were with Nike before?
Absolutely, I think I will. I think that’s, I mean one of their biggest points and another massive reason why that seemed like an easy choice is because yeah, they want me to give my ideas, talk about what I like and that they want to see that and use that as well.

As far as sneakers go, what would your ideal situation be for a Christian Pulisic sneaker?
I mean, that’s tough to say. My favorites from the Pumas, I definitely love these Puma Suedes. So something very nice, very chill, that I think is an instant classic. So I love wearing these, but my ideal one. Yeah, I don’t have something like that.

I know you got to live in the UK for a year when you were a bit younger, but growing up in Pennsylvania I know is a far cry from London, especially style-wise. I’ve seen you wear Burberry shirts and A-Cold-Wall. How much of a transition was it growing up in small town Pennsylvania to going to London, fashion capital, and getting put on all of that stuff?
That’s a good question. I think, yeah, I didn’t grow up with any of that stuff. I was just wearing anything, but as you move over to Europe, you start to see yourself change very quickly. You see people wearing different brands, and you want to try stuff and wear different things. And yeah, I think it’s cool. But I think it’s important to have your own style really. And that’s what I try to implement in just wearing stuff that I like.

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How would you describe your style as far as the stuff that you’re into?
I would say very classic. I like wearing stuff that’s not, I’m not the most outgoing wearing super bright colors all the time. But I like a nice classy style and something that just will always be in style. That’s me.

Speaking of style, I think people on the internet have noticed recently that Gregg Berhalter is a sneakerhead. Have you noticed that or do the guys say anything about it on the team?
Yeah. So we give him crap for it all the time. I think he brings an extra suitcase for each trip just full of shoes. So yeah, we think it’s awesome though. So if that’s what he likes to do, then we’re cool with it.

I know you didn’t play in the Gold Cup. What were your thoughts on seeing the final last night and seeing the USA win?
Honestly, it was just incredible. I mean how far this team has come. We’ve had different squads in for the Nations League, for the Gold Cup, and no one has backed down from the challenge. And I’m seeing just a fight in this group that it makes me so proud and just very excited for what’s to come.

What was your reaction to the game-winning goal in extra time?
I went absolutely nuts at four in the morning. I was jumping out of my bed. I was so excited. I mean it, yeah, I mean you could just feel it coming and then it happened. And it was just amazing to watch.

And when you took that penalty against Mexico, I think everyone’s all on the edge of their seat, and you go upper 90. What was the thought when you took that shot?
I mean the only thought was to execute the finish and put it exactly where I wanted to put it. And yeah, luckily I was just feeling confident in the moment and I just went for it. Obviously, there was the pressure, the nerves were all there, but I’m happy I was able just to stay calm.

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And then the celebration photo, I think, is iconic at this point with your shirt off and into the corner, what was it like in that moment when you were celebrating the goal? Did you know it would be captured that way as something?
I mean I wasn’t thinking at all about that. I was just going crazy in the moment, celebrating with my teammates. Obviously, it was a really big moment in the game and yeah, it was just a crazy celebration.

Definitely. Do you think it’s a lock that the United States is going to qualify for the World Cup this time, given four years ago?
I’d say we have a lot of confidence just from recent games and different tournaments we’ve played in. And just how much this team has grown. I think we should definitely be confident in going in, but we know that we have to go in there and get a job done. But I mean I think the way we feel right now, we’re very confident.

I know you’ve had changes in coaches, but what do you think has been the biggest change overall with the team as far as playing goes?
Yeah. I mean, I think there’s just a different kind of fight in the team that you’re seeing. I mean the last two competitions that we’ve seen, even watching this Gold Cup, the team just has… Yeah, there’s always that feeling that we’re going to come out with that result. We’re going to fight till the end. We’re going to just find that result in the end. And I think that’s the difference and there’s just so much passion and growth that’s been in the team.

I saw Alexi Lalas said that people are saying it reminds them of the old national teams, but he said, that’s not a bad thing either. Is that how you view it as far as the style of play?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think growing up watching the U.S. what was so special back in World Cups back when I was very young, I think there was just always that feeling, like I said before, that somehow they would come away with a result. They had that fight to them. They had that American spirit. That little something, that fight in them. So I think that’s something that, yeah, hopefully that we’re starting to see. And I think we are seeing as of late.

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How does it feel to be given the whole, the Captain America moniker and have that weight on your shoulders?
I don’t really take it as a weight on my shoulders. People are going to give names to people. They’re going to, obviously, there were Captain America’s before me, and there’ll probably be some after. It’s just a tag people like to say, so it doesn’t really put any pressure on me or affect my thought process of going into a game or anything.

How do those moments with the national team compare to winning the Champions League with Chelsea? Are they comparable?
I mean, absolutely. I mean, they’re different in some ways and very similar in some ways. I mean, obviously celebrating a title anywhere is good. Lifting a trophy is extremely special. Obviously, Champions League is one of the biggest competitions in the world. But obviously to lift a trophy with the national team for the first time for me was incredible as well. So two moments that I’ll definitely hold on to forever.

When you’re playing in Europe, do you still feel like you have that title of being American and needing to prove yourself?
I don’t like to think so. I guess technically I always will because I am American and I play in Europe and I think, but you’re starting to see a lot more where it’s becoming a normal thing, which is, I mean, the goal in the end. And I think that we’ve earned a lot of respect, not just myself, but other Americans having success across Europe at the moment. It’s really good to see.

Because I know, they always bring that up during the broadcast. Where it’s always the first American to do this, the first American to do that. Do you like hearing that or is it just, alright, enough?
Again, it’s one of those things I don’t really listen to. I mean I try to accomplish these things for myself, for my team, not to be the first American to do something really.

So as far as your cleats go, on field, I know you said you wanted to have signature things, but what do you prefer the most when you’re looking to pick out a cleat?
Definitely something that’s comfortable, but also light that fits my game. And I think that’s where the new Puma Ultra that I’m going to be wearing fits in perfectly. And yeah, something because a big part of my game is being quick, being fast. So I need that light boot, but also has that comfort that’s going to fit to my style well.

Are you the sort of guy who has a lucky pair of cleats or things that you hold on to, or you don’t hold sentimental value to them?
I don’t. I definitely will save boots maybe from a big occasion or whatever, but I’m not very superstitious or anything about what I need to wear or something like that.

Do you have a mantle with them somewhere in the house from those moments with the cleats?
I think back home in Pennsylvania, my mom loves to keep that stuff down in the basement and has a nice little showroom for that kind of stuff.

Does she have the Reese’s cleats there too?
Oh, I think she does. She’s got everything.

Do you have people trying to send you custom stuff like that a lot, or trying to hook you up with limited-edition cleats?
I mean I think I’m definitely contacted about stuff like that. I’m not someone who loves wearing something crazy or different all the time. I think there’s times when I like to pick and choose and do stuff that’s different like that. But I mostly, like I said before, sticking to the classics and wearing what I like to wear.

Do you consider yourself a sneakerhead?
I don’t know if I’m on Gregg Berhalter level, but I definitely like my shoes. I’m definitely going to start collecting all the Puma shoes that I can. And I love to have a nice collection that I can wear with all different kinds of outfits.

Do you have a closet or display where you live with all the footwear?
Yeah, I have a nice little shoe cabinet where I keep all my shoes and I get to pass each day after I have a nice outfit picked out. I’ve got to pick the shoes that fit the best with it. So I do have that.

So you go outfit first, then sneakers, not sneakers first, then outfit?
Maybe if there’s a new pair of shoes that I really want to wear, I’ll try to pick that to fit with the shoes that I’m thinking of. But yeah, I guess that can depend.