Christian Pulisic is better than Landon Donovan. It’s not my opinion – it’s Landon donovan. At 22, Pulisic won at Chelsea. Donovan, at 22, was having one of his least productive MLS seasons with an average San Jose earthquake squad.
The conclusion of that 2004 MLS season would see Donovan return to Bayer Leverkusen again after his initial failure to adjust at the age of 17. It wouldn’t be better this time around, and Donovan demanded a return to MLS – joining the LA Galaxy – as his reputation for turning into a chewy cake batter overseas was established.
The power to watch the long game, however, allows us to do without that infamous label, as people often forget that Donovan was fun as hell during his two loan spells with Everton.
In total, the Golden Boy has made 20 appearances in English football (17 in the Premier League, three in the FA Cup), scoring two goals and providing nine assists. If we look at those same competitions for Pulisic, he made 45 appearances, scoring 11 goals and providing seven assists.
The fact that Pulisic has yet to match Donovan’s assists tally tells you how efficient the Californian was in the final third at the peak of his power, and many of those glorious moments of Donovan in an Everton shirt have been somewhat lost in the passage of time.
For example, this assist to Victor Anichebe after scooping the ball off, pushing in and dissecting the baseline with a perfectly weighted ball, is exactly the kind of play we’ve come to expect from Pulisic.
There were also great moments against the royalty of English football. Everton’s 2-0 victory over Chelsea in the 2011-12 season was underscored by Donovan’s assist for Denis Stracqualursi. David Luiz didn’t stand a chance and the slipped ball was pure quality.
# AXEMretro 02/11/2012 Denis Stracqualursi annotaba su primer gol con la camiseta del #Everton, nada más ni nada menos que ante #Chelsea. Fue victoria 2-0 de los Toffees by the fecha 25 of the # Premier league of the 2011/2012 temporada. pic.twitter.com/aDASnWk5Gx
There was a similar story against Manchester City, where Donovan’s soft touch and Darron Gibson’s layoff saw Everton record a 1-0 victory over then-Premier League leaders.
The American’s delivery from outside was also grossly underestimated. Against Fulham in the 2011-12 FA Cup fourth round, Donovan provided both assists in Everton’s 2-1 win. This is how you get the most out of Marouane Fellaini.
His influence could also be felt against Hull City in 2010, when he scored with a raucous angular drive before placing Jack Rodwell from a similar position at the end of the game.
And his first Premier League goal, scored against Sunderland, is still worth seeing.
#OnThisDay in 2010 Everton defeated Sunderland 2-0 at Goodison Park
Landon Donovan scored his first goal for Evertonpic.twitter.com/25R9IZGdyL
– The Toffee Blues (@EvertonNewsFeed) January 27, 2021
“I was maturing mentally and understanding the game, I was never going to be overwhelmed by anything again. ” Donovan says reflecting on his time at Everton. “Tim (Howard) told me that David Moyes would watch the players 15 times before signing them, so there was a reason he was bringing me. He wanted me to have an impact. Both periods that I was. I’ve had with Everton have been the most enjoyable times of my career.
Over the next several years, the comparisons between Donovan and Pulisic will only increase as the Pennsylvania native appears in his inaugural World Cup and climbs steadily in the all-time rankings for goalscorers and assists from the USMNT.
Rather than having to take an Alexi Lalas type of support in this regard, perhaps we would do better to regard the comparison as mutually complementary; here are two footballers playing with the kind of joy, candor and confidence that makes the game worth watching.
“It’s so orderly in tight spaces,” Aaron Long once told ESPN about Pulisic. “His acceleration, and it’s not just his top speed, it’s speed and top speed mixed together. I think Michael Bradley described him as light, almost like a Landon Donovan how so light he is on his feet. The way he can dribble around defenders and make him look effortlessly is insane. This is something I have never seen before.
Former American supporters are fortunate to have seen it twice.