MICHAEL ADUBATO - Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Club Brugge vs Borussia Dortmund
Champions League - Tuesday September 18, 2018
Jan Breydel Stadion
It was a birthday to remember for Christian Pulisic as he scored the only goal to help Borussia Dortmund take all three points in their Champions League opener against a feisty Club Brugge.
The Champions League opened for a couple of teams with an American on their books when Borussia Dortmund made the long bus ride to the Belgian city of Brugge on the Flemish side of the country. Both Yanks however, Ethan Horvath of Club Brugge and Christian Pulisic of Dortmund, started on the bench. Pulisic missed the last two league games due to injury, while Horvath has been pushed to the number two goalkeeper spot.
It was a warm evening at Jan Breydel Stadium when the game kicked off but it didn't take long for the action to heat up on the field. Belgian international Axel Witsel, who recently signed for the German side was booed every time he touched the ball as the fans remembered him when he played with Oguchi Onyewu for Standard Liege and beat them to back to back Belgian league titles.
The first chance of the game came for the hosts in the 12th minute when Hans Vanaken picked out Jelle Vossen with his cross from the right flank into the box. The Belgian attacker however failed to test Roman Burki between the German sticks as his effort went wide.
Five minutes later Witsel could have broken Brugge hearts again when Marius Wolf's corner kick picked him out but the Liege native scuffed his shot right to Karlo Letica and the keeper easily claimed it.
It was Vossen again a few minutes later and every fan in the stadium was on their feet ready to celebrate what looked like a sure goal. Inside the crowded box and from a free kick that was poorly cleared, Arnaut Groeneveld Danjuma collected the ball and slid it to his Belgian colleague who shot past a pair of defenders cross goal from six yards out. Burki was truly beaten but Captain Marco Reus slid into the path of the ball and saved the day.
Danjuma then had his chance in the 23rd minute with a powerful shot that forced the keeper into making a flying save worthy of a trapeze artist. Although the weakest team in the group on paper, Club had thus far dominated the game.
A 31st minute Dortmund corner kick could have lit the scoreboard but it was not to be. Club then came back and Stefano Denswil struck one hard from the left top of the box. He easily beat the keeper but couldn't keep it inside the far post.
Just before the intermission Manuel Akanji picked out Marcel Schmelzer's run into the box and although he got around the defender, his attempt ended up missing the target completely.
The most exciting thing to happen was in the 50th minute when I spotted Pulisic warming up along the side line.
A chance by Hans Vanaken was blocked by Abdou Diallo moments later, and then another one after Diallo failed to clear the ball properly. The eventual shot was a soft one and easily saved.
On the hour mark Mats Rits brought down Wolf and the Germans were awarded a free kick about 21 yards out at the top of the D. Reus made a mess of it however and struck it wide. Coach Lucien Favre had obviously seen enough and made his first substitution, bringing on the Japanese international Shinji Kagawa for a very ineffective Mario Gotze. Seven minutes later the young American took to the field of play.
Pulisic got his first sniff at goal in the 75th minute. Witsel picked him out and he got close but the keeper read the situation and sorted things out. Both teams then exchanged chances that failed to convert before Club should have truly taken the lead in the 83rd minute. Brugge stole the ball back inside the Dortmund third and substitute Lois Openda was presented with a golden chance from eight yards out. The pressure and excitement of Champions League soccer however was probably too much for the 18 year old and with all that open space, he chose to kick it directly at Burki for the easy save.
Pulisic didn't make the same mistake a pair of minutes later. On the attack Witsel, from the top of the box, rolled it in and defender Matej Mitrovic got there first. Facing goal, he attempted to clear the ball to his right but didn't expect the American to be bearing down on him. The Pennsylvanian deflected it with his shin and it sailed up and over Brugge's Croatian keeper. The goal came in the 85th minute.
Yanks Abroad spoke to Pulisic after the game and wished him a happy birthday and asked about the game and his health as the 20-year-old missed Dortmund's last two games.
"I had a few muscle problems but feeling great again," he told YA. "I was happy that I was able to get back out on the field today."
He felt that he was ready to get into the game if called upon.
"Yeah, I felt great. I did some training with the team. I told everyone that I was perfectly ready to go. I wasn't sure if I would start but I was glad that I was able to come in."
Although he didn't say it, he perhaps felt that the goal was a birthday present from the gods of soccer.
"I was ready for the situation. I got a bit lucky. The ball hit off my leg and went in but I'll definitely take it."
The American had nothing but respect and admiration for the opponents.
"They're a good team. They put a lot of pressure on us from the start. The first half was definitely not easy watching from the side lines. It was tough. The atmosphere in the stadium was also great. It's going to be a good second match as well."
Club Brugge won't travel to Dortmund until late November and the Borussians will have to travel to Hoffenheim over the weekend for their next Bundesliga clash. They will however return to Champions League action early October when Ligue 1 side Monaco come to town.