The most remarkable thing about Christian Pulisic right now isn't that he is the biggest name in American soccer.
It's that the 18-year-old from Hershey is already becoming a genuine leader.
U.S. coach Bruce Arena hasn't hesitated to put Pulisic in the most important role in the lineup: the "number 10" playmaker who conducts the entire attack from the center of midfield. That carries significance in games and in the locker room.
"He's a very gifted player that we're allowing room to grow, both as a player and as a person," Arena said.
It helps immensely helps that Pulisic is surrounded by veterans such as Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Tim Howard. They have years of experience with the national team's culture, and are now passing that culture on to Pulisic's generation.
"He doesn't have that much responsibility in that regard, but simply because of the fact that he's such an outstanding player, there are some responsibilities both on and off the field that he has to assume, and he has done that," Arena said. "I'm thankful we have such great leaders that take some of that pressure off him."
That support system is especially helpful when playing World Cup qualifiers on the road, as the Americans will do Tuesday in Honduras (5:30 p.m.). Conditions are always hostile, and the facilities often aren't of the same quality players enjoy in America and Europe.
"The guys that maybe haven't been on those trips as much as some of the others, sometimes it takes some adjusting to, understanding the magnitude and what they're all about in terms of how they're played, all the outside factors that go into it," veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. "We know his talent is unbelievable, but more importantly, he's got a really good head on his shoulders. … Regardless of the location of the game, he seems to rise to the occasion, and finds a way to help us."
Pulisic has already experienced trips to Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines. Along the way, he has been treated to international soccer's ultimate sign of respect: getting kicked at mercilessly by opposing defenders for as long as the referee allows it.
But he has shown every time that he isn't intimidated. No matter the scale of the beating, he charges right back down the field.
Bradley, the U.S. team's captain, knows what it means to be a young star in the soccer spotlight. The son of former national team coach Bob Bradley made his debut as a teenager, too. Now Michael is an elder statesman at 30, and he knows it's his job to help Pulisic thrive.
"From the first camp that he came into with our team, he has found a really good way to fit into the group," Bradley said. "You can see what a good kid he is, how much he loves to play, how much he enjoys the time with our group. We want to put him in the best possible position so that he can play, enjoy himself, and ultimately make the biggest difference for our team."
Pulisic has certainly made a difference. In the last 12 months, he has seven goals for the national team, including six in World Cup qualifiers, and four assists in 11 appearances.
He has become a leader at his club team, too. And it's no ordinary club team. Borussia Dortmund is a giant in Germany and Europe, and has a reputation as the continent's best club at developing young players. Dortmund also boasts Europe's highest average attendance — 79,653 fans per game last season — and a regular place in the UEFA Champions League.
This season, Dortmund will face Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur in the world's most famous club soccer competition. Dortmund's tournament opener is against Tottenham at London's famed Wembley Stadium on Sept. 13 — just five days before Pulisic's 19th birthday.
Dortmund manager Peter Bosz has clearly been impressed.
"Day in and day out, he proves his right to be at a European top club like Borussia Dortmund," Bosz told the Inquirer and Daily News.
Bosz took the Dortmund job in June after spending a season at Ajax Amsterdam, the venerable Dutch club made famous by Johan Cruyff. Before that, he coached Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv, and one of his players was current Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin.
Ajax isn't the powerhouse it once was, but Bosz guided it to the UEFA Europa League title game this past spring — and did so with a starting lineup whose average age was just 22 years old.
That's just the kind of manager Dortmund wants, as the club has a proud history of developing elite young players. It also has a history of selling those players for giant transfer fees to other European powerhouses.
Last year, the club sold midfielder Ilkay Gundogan to Manchester City for $30 million, defender Mats Hummels to Bayern Munich for $39 million, and midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Manchester United for $46.8 million.
This summer, playmaking winger Ousmane Dembélé moved to Barcelona for a whopping $126 million, with incentive clauses that could raise the total to over $174 million.
But Pulisic isn't going anywhere, at least not yet. He signed a contract extension in January that will keep him tied to the club through the spring of 2020.
"I still have a lot to learn," he told the team's website at the time. "I feel Dortmund offers the best conditions to do that."
Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said Pulisic "can become a cornerstone of our sporting future."
That seems to have happened, and it's even more notable given the team's coaching change. In fact, Bosz is the third coach for whom Pulisic has played since making his professional debut in January 2016.
The first, Jurgen Klopp, is now at Liverpool. It's no coincidence that Liverpool has reportedly bid several times to bring Pulisic to the Premier League, including a reported $14.5 million in the summer of 2016.
Zorc swatted the bids away, telling German newspaper Bild in December that "Liverpool don't need to waste their time."
Pulisic was equally dismissive.
"I'll lay it on the line for you: I am not thinking about changing clubs," he told Bild last month.
Perhaps someday Pulisic will move on, and perhaps it will be for big money. But for now, there's little doubt that he's in a great place.
"We will not put any extra weight on his shoulders, but if he continues to work like that, he will only get better," Bosz said. He offered specific praise for Pulisic's "determination to make a difference on the pitch, using his speed to score goals or set them up."
Is there any way to compare Pulisic's meteoric rise to the rest of American soccer's history? The team has never been as prominent as it is now, nor has any individual player.
But there have certainly been young phenoms. Some have even fulfilled much of their promise.
Landon Donovan first hit the headlines as a teenager when he won Most Outstanding Player honors at the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Cup. He became a World Cup sensation at age 20, and went on to set the national team's goal-scoring record.
Claudio Reyna made his national team debut as a 20-year-old in 1994. He went to four World Cups and became the first American to captain a European club team.
Arena was with both men when they rose to prominence: Donovan at the 2002 World Cup and Reyna as a college player at the University of Virginia. Now he is with a player seen by many as the heir to their throne.
"Christian has much better support than Landon had in his time, and Claudio," Arena said.
Pulisic also plays in an era when it's far more widely accepted that American players should bypass college and go to the pros as early as possible. That, as Arena noted, has made Pulisic "more accelerated" in his development than Donovan and Reyna.
There's even more of a contrast with the first star playmaker of the national team's modern era, Tab Ramos. But there's an important connection, because Ramos is now the head coach of the U.S. under-20 team and knows Pulisic well.
Ramos made his national team debut as a 21-year-old in January 1988, two years before the U.S. played in its first World Cup since 1950.
"You cannot compare" then and now, Ramos said. "Christian is playing in the Bundesliga every day. At 18, I was in college playing games four months out of the year, without any idea of what workload was, and in training sessions which had no real objective or flow from one day to the next."
Pulisic is well aware that many fans believe he'll someday end up on par with those legends. He's also well aware that he has a long, long way to go before it's truly worth thinking about.
"Of course I hear about all the stuff people talk about, the hype and whatever, but I just try to keep it out of my mind as much as I can, because it doesn't really matter to me," he said. "I put enough pressure on myself. I don't need all this outside tension or whatever."
For now, he's just happy to be playing — and, of course, to be playing well.
"It's an amazing honor to be a regular part of this [national] team," he said. "Being in that playmaker role, it's the style of how I've played most of my life, and it's just amazing to be out there. I'm just trying to help the team in whatever way I can."
The same goes for Dortmund.
"I'm kind of growing into a role there as well, and it's been really fun," he said. "Whether there's more responsibility put on me or not, I'm going to go out and try to do the same things, and be effective."
It's in moments like the one when he said those words that reality hits you. A moment when he was just sitting at a table for a news conference, not charging down a soccer field with speed and skill and vision.
For as much as we think we know Christian Pulisic, he really is still only 18 years old.
5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula
TV/online streaming: beIN Sports in English, NBC Universo in Spanish; beINSports.com and TelemundoDeportes.com (both free with TV provider authentication); go90 mobile app (free with no authentication required, but it doesn't always work well); fuboTV (paid subscription)
United States record: 2-3-2, 8 points, +1 goal difference; 3rd place
Honduras record: 2-3-2, 8 points, -7 goal difference; 4th place
All-time series: United States 16 wins, Honduras 4 wins, 4 ties
In World Cup qualifying: United States 6 wins, Honduras 2 wins, 1 tie
At Honduras: United States 3 wins, Honduras 2 wins, 1 tie (including one friendly game)
Defender Maynor Figueroa: The veteran center back is a stalwart for FC Dallas in MLS, so he'll be plenty familiar with U.S. attackers like Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris.
Forward Carlo Costly: The national team's No. 5 all-time scorer quit the squad last year after a spat with head coach Jorge Luis Pinto. Now he's back, and looking for his first national team goal since the 2014 World Cup.
Forward Alberth Elis: The 21-year-old from MLS' Houston Dynamo is the likely heir to Costly's throne. He scored the decisive goal in a 2-1 win over Trinidad & Tobago this past Friday.