Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen will vie for Champions League glory, capping a stellar season for American players in Europe

Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen will vie for Champions League glory, capping a stellar season for American players in Europe

Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen may not physically go head-to-head in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League Final in Portugal, but they have both played a part in a sensational overall season for U.S. Men’s National Team players in Europe.

Pennsylvania natives Pulisic and Steffen will conclude their club campaigns on Saturday when Chelsea faces off with English Premier League rivals Manchester City at the Estadio do Dragao. Pulisic has ended his second season on a high note for Thomas Tuchel’s side, while Steffen started and won the Carabao Cup Final earlier this spring.

Both players will reunite after the final for upcoming Concacaf Nations League duty in Colorado, knowing one of them will be a Champions League winner, becoming the first American to be an active member of a title-wining team (Jovan Kirovski earned a winner’s medal with Borussia Dortmund in 1997, but was not in uniform for the final). Regardless of who walks away with the prestigious trophy, it will be a great day to be a follower of American Soccer.

“When you think about having two Americans now playing in the Champions League Final, I get goosebumps thinking about it,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said earlier in the week. “It’s an amazing feeling. and we’re going to be watching them and rooting them on and proud of both of them.”

Pulisic struggled between consistency and injuries in the first half of Chelsea’s season before Frank Lampard was replaced by Tuchel in January. Since then, the 22-year-old has been a live wire for the Blues, scoring five goals and registering four assists across all competitions, while also helping Chelsea clinch a top-four spot in the Premier League.

Pulisic’s individual numbers might be down in comparison to his first season with Chelsea, but the playmaker has been in good form over the past month.

“When I think about him, it’s just relentlessness. It’s a guy who doesn’t give up,” Berhalter said of Pulisic. “And we had a lot of conversations, I just kept encouraging him and saying you have quality, keep going.

“He showed he can do his talking on the field and that’s what we’re most proud of. The way he got back onto the field, the way he earned his starting position. And then the way he just kept persevering and performing was really great.”

Steffen remained with Manchester City this season instead of heading out on a possible loan once again. The 25-year-old was the backup goalkeeper for the Citizens, but did get to play in every competition that Pep Guardiola’s side was involved in.

The USMNT No. 1 played in the Champions League group stage, all five of the team’s EFL Cup matches, including the 1-0 win over Tottenham in the final, and the Premier League. Steffen enjoyed his first taste of life under a managerial legend in Guardiola, while also developing a strong partnership with Brazilian international and back-to-back Premier League Golden Glove winner Ederson Moraes.

Steffen most likely will spectate from the sidelines in Porto on Saturday, but he has definitely earned world-class experience in his first full season with the Citizens, since Manchester United acquired him from the Columbus Crew in 2018.

“When I think about Zach, it’s bravery,” Berhalter said. “It’s bravery to say, ‘I’m going to stay here, even though my playing time might be limited. But I’m going to be learning and I’m going to be part of a project that’s massive.’
“When I look back on his year, I would say that he’s definitely improved. He’s definitely progressed. And that’s all you want from a player.”
A victory for Steffen will give him his third trophy this campaign while Pulisic is still seeking his first as a member of Chelsea. Either way, Saturday’s final will mark another significant achievement for the growing contingent of USMNT players in Europe.