Americans are known globally for their incredible sporting culture. The international appeal of American sports franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Cowboys, and New York Yankees is proof of their contribution to the sporting landscape. As for Americans’ dominance in athletic competition, you have to look no further than the medal tally at the most recent Olympic Games.
Yet, one sport that Americans are yet to dominate is football. You might imagine for all the money and athletes participating in sports that the Champions League, the sport’s most prestigious club competition, would be littered with Americans. But you’d be wrong.
While an American-record 10 Yanks were kicking it during last year’s Champions League competition, that number is still well behind the power-players of the sport and even smaller nations such as Senegal or Greece, who had 12 and 14, respectively.
The list of American players who have lifted the European Cup is even smaller. Just two men have lifted the Champions League, Jovan Kirovski of 1997 winners Borussia Dortmund, and Christian Pulisic of 2021 winners Chelsea FC. No matter the winner, a new name was going to be added to the list after the 2021 Champions League Final with Pulisic’s Chelsea facing off against goalkeeper Zack Steffen’s Manchester City. The City man will have to wait another year to add his name. Below we take a look at the Americans to have lifted the trophy so far.
Jovan Kirovski (Dortmund 1996–97)
Jovan Kirovski had one of the more underrated careers in American soccer history. The son of Macedonian immigrants, he joined Manchester United’s academy at the age of 16 but never broke through to the senior squad. After three years in Manchester, Kirovski joined German giants Borussia Dortmund.
During Dortmund’s European run in 1996-97, Kirovski played in two matches during the group stage. The forward tallied a total of 27 minutes and did not find the back of the net. When it came time for the final, Kirovski was a spectator and did not even make the bench for Dortmund, but he won’t mind as he’s got a winner’s medal at home to prove his credentials. With Dortmund’s win over Zinedine Zidane’s Juventus, Kirovski became the first American to win the Champions League.
A year later, Jovan Kirovski became the first American to score in the Champions League when he found the back of the net for Dortmund in a group stage match against Sparta Prague.
Kirovski would play just 29 times in 4 years for Dortmund before moving around Europe. He would go on to play for Sporting CP in Portugal, and both Crystal Palace and Birmingham City in England before returning home to the States to play for the Colorado Rapids and Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer. These days he is the Technical Director for the Galaxy.
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea 2020-21)
The connections between Kirovski and Pulisic could not be stronger. Pulisic started his European adventure at Dortmund, coming through their vaunted academy as a teenager and starring for the senior team until Chelsea made him the most expensive American in football history in 2019 when they bought him for $73 million.
Pulisic was no stranger to the Champions League when he arrived on English shores. In his four seasons in Germany, he played 22 times in Champions League matches and scored twice.
When Pulisic became the second American to win the Champions League, his win had more significance for Americans than Kirovski’s. Unlike Kirovski, Pulisic played in the Champions League Final and played an important role for Chelsea. In the final against City, Pulisic came off the bench and played the final 20 or so minutes.
In two seasons leading up to 2021 final, the winger played in 14 Champions League matches and scored 3 times. Being able to see Christian Pulisic on the field as Chelsea sealed victory is the biggest achievement for an American in club soccer to this point.
The young American, dubbed “Captain America” because of his role with his national side, has his whole career ahead of him. He’s only 22, what other trophies and winners medals could he add to his collection? His compatriot and Final’s competitor, Zack Steffen just became the first American to win the Premier League. Maybe Pulisic will be the second to that prize too?
Americans have been on the outside looking in at many of the world’s elite footballing parties. However, two men have been let in. With this current generation of talent looking promising, this list may look very different in 5 or 10 years. The 21-22 season looks set to have up to 20 Americans featuring for Champions League clubs. Who will be the next American man to join Kirovski and Pulisic as Champions League winners? Will it be in 2021? Only time will tell.