MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The U.S. men's national soccer team is in rebuilding mode after failing even to qualify to play in the World Cup last summer. But there is one very bright spot in American soccer, 20-year-old Christian Pulisic. Yesterday, Pulisic became the most expensive U.S. soccer player ever after it was announced that, come August, he'll move to one of the biggest teams in England, Chelsea Football Club. Now, just how much is Chelsea going to pay for his services? That would be a tidy $73 million.
For some perspective on this move, let's bring in NBC sports commentator and former U.S. soccer player Kyle Martino. Welcome.
KYLE MARTINO: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
KELLY: So how big a deal is this for U.S. soccer?
MARTINO: (Laughter) Well, I think you - it wasn't hyperbole. You put it in good context just by listing the facts. Spending $73 million on a player is not unusual for a club that size. It's not even unusual to spend it on a 20-year-old. But to spend it on a 20-year-old American is incredibly unusual, and it makes that the largest and most exciting signing in U.S. soccer history.
KELLY: A little bit of background on Pulisic. He is from Pennsylvania originally. He's been captain of the U.S. men's team. One point I want to draw attention to, which is that he is not moving to Chelsea from an American team. He was already playing in Europe in the Bundesliga in Germany. Is that the path that promising American players still have to take?
MARTINO: It is. It tends to be the path not only for American players. Sometimes you need a stepping stone approach, and you need to climb the ladder, so to speak. And for Christian Pulisic, that meant going from youth teams here with the Youth National Team and youth club teams in the States to the youth team at Borussia Dortmund in Germany and climbing into the first team there. That's a rare occurrence. And he accomplished that, and at the full international level with U.S. men's national team.
KELLY: What do you think? Is he the real deal? I'm remembering a dozen or so years ago when a teenager named Freddy Adu was supposed to be the next big...
KELLY: ...Thing in the future of U.S. soccer. And he ended up bouncing from team to team to team and often on the bench.
MARTINO: You know, there are myriad differences in terms of the comparison. Freddy Adu, the hype was based off of success at a youth level. So the excitement and propelling him into the national and international conversation about phenoms and stars was premature in that he hadn't proven himself on the full professional platform. Christian Pulisic has done that. Christian Pulisic is who we think he is. And I think he will succeed at Chelsea. But whether or not it's there or not, this kid is the real deal for sure.
KELLY: And what's in it for Chelsea for their 73 million bucks? I mean, they're getting a promising young player, as you describe. But this also presumably makes business sense for them.
MARTINO: It makes a lot of business sense. He immediately can help make the squad stronger on the field. Now, off the field, this is where the money really makes sense because Christian Pulisic is a already household name over here in the States. We have an enormous sports landscape with many fans having their allegiance up for grabs or maybe not even soccer fans wholeheartedly yet.
Chelsea now have an enormous asset that will immediately - whether it's through jersey sales or people watching their team - they'll see a return on investment before he even kicks a ball. If he ends up being successful on the field, it will compound and be an incredibly shrewd and solid investment.
KELLY: That's former midfielder for the U.S. national team, Kyle Martino. He's now a commentator for NBC Sports. Thank you.
MARTINO: Thank you.
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