A couple of days ago, a soccer thing went viral for all the wrong reasons as a Chicago-based reporter asked the MLS' newest high-profile star Bastian Schweinsteiger -- twice -- if he could win a World Cup with the Fire.
What followed was a minute of pure awkwardness as Schweinsteiger, who won the 2014 World Cup with Germany, had no idea how to respond, given that the World Cup is an international competition reserved for, um, countries.
The most generous explanation is the reporter, who doesn't usually cover sports, meant the FIFA Club World Cup (which no MLS team has ever come close to winning, or publically aspire toward). The more likely one is that he doesn't know much about soccer but had heard that "World Cup" term thrown around every four years when more of the country pays attention to the sport.
Which, in a weird way, brings us to Christian Pulisic.
The youngest player on the U.S. national team just got done helping the Americans regain their footing in actual World Cup qualifying by completely shredding Honduras in a breakout game for the ages last Friday. Just watch the highlights:
And, if you haven't seen it yet, check out his marvelous assist vs. Panama from Tuesday:
At this point, we should remind everyone that he's an 18-year-old kid from Hershey, Pa.
My co-podcaster Kevin Kinkead wrote an excellent piece on the ever-growing hype surrounding Pulisic after chatting with Union head coach Jim Curtin, who sort of poo-pooed the comparisons between another former wunderkind in Freddy Adu (who, let's just say, didn’t really develop like everyone hoped).
But making comparisons are only natural, of course, and many have thrown Pulisic in the same boat as Landon Donovan, who also got an early start to his career and (perhaps until now) is probably the best soccer player this country has ever produced.
After practice Thursday, I decided to get the perspective of Union center back Oguchi Onyewu, who came up through the national team ranks with Donovan. He smiled when Pulisic's name came up.
"People compare," Onyewu told me. "Just like people compared Landon to everyone else. I'm not gonna do that to Christian and put pressure on him. I don’t think he needs to have that pressure. I think he’s playing well enough in his own skin not to be compared to anyone else.
"I think if he continues what he's doing -- and I'm confident that he will -- pretty soon people will be comparing others to him. I think he's done a great job and I want him to continue. He's making everyone proud and opening a lot of eyes toward American soccer."
The last part struck me the most. Without being asked, Gooch mentioned that more eyes are being opened to American soccer -- this from a person who, along with Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley and others from that generation, is responsible for opening a whole lot of eyes himself. But it's clear, from the Schweinsteiger press conference and other cringeworthy-moments of that ilk, that there's still a long way to go to improve the sport's visibility. And it's also clear that Pulisic is making the casual sports fan pay attention and get even more excited about soccer.
And hey, who knows, maybe one day the kid from Hershey can even help the Americans win a World Cup -- if they can only get past the Chicago Fire.