Christian Pulisic Is Far Better Than Landon Donovan On His 19th Birthday

As Christian Pulisic turned 19, we compared his career to Landon Donovan at 19.

Christian Pulisic, born on Sept. 18, 1998, turned 19 on Monday. In the first 18 years of his life, he has already been called the greatest American soccer player of all time. But how does he compare to Landon Donovan at the same age?

Donovan is the all-time leader in goals and assists for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Many would consider Donovan the greatest American soccer player of all time. Donovan, like Pulisic, was playing in Germany at 19. So which player had accomplished more by their 19th birthday?


Donovan joined Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen in 1999 at the age of 17. Pulisic joined Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund in 2015 at the age of 16. Advantage Pulisic. 

Donovan didn’t make his Bundesliga debut until 2005, by which time he was 22. Pulisic made his Bundesliga debut in 2016 at the age of 17. Advantage Pulisic. 

Donovan never scored for Leverkusen. Pulisic has scored nine goals with Borussia Dortmund’s first team, including one in the Champions League, to go with 14 assists by the time he was 19. Donovan made two appearances in the Champions League throughout his entire career, never scoring in the competition. Advantage Pulisic. 

Donovan made his first USMNT appearance on Oct. 27, 2000, at the age of 18, scoring in his debut, a friendly against Mexico in L.A. Pulisic made his USMNT debut as a late substitute on March 29, 2016, in a World Cup qualifier against Guatemala in Ohio at the age of 17. Advantage Donovan.

Donovan’s tally against Mexico was his only U.S. goal before his 19th birthday. Pulisic scored seven goals with the national team before turning 19. Advantage Pulisic.


Donovan was never a regular with Leverkusen, though he had reasonably successful loan spells with Everton later in his career. Pulisic is already a regular with Dortmund, one of the best clubs in Europe. The current wonder boy has already outperformed Donovan in every area by the age of 19. Clint Dempsey, who could pass Donovan with one more goal as the Americans’ all-time scorer, was still playing college ball when he turned 19. 

A more appropriate comparison might be with the current two best players in the world: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Pulisic has more club appearances (60) than Messi (34) or Ronaldo (53) by the time they turned 19. He has as many club goals as Messi (nine) and more than Ronaldo (six). Ronaldo hadn’t made his Portugal debut by 19 but Messi had made nine appearances (half that of Pulisic) with two goals, five fewer than the American.


But before we jump the shark and proclaim Pulisic will undoubtedly become the greatest player of all time, let’s remember young players often make big splashes early but can’t maintain that success throughout a lengthy career, which is what separates legends from greats. 

“My son’s so young,” Christian’s father, Mark, said recently. “He hasn’t had a serious girlfriend yet. Who knows how he's going to react to that part of his life? Who knows how he’s going to react to his first major setback when he’s left out of a national team? How he is going to come off an injury? How is he going to psychologically handle that?"

So while it’s too early to say Pulisic will be the greatest ever, as we celebrate Pulisic’s 19th birthday, we can definitively say Pulisic’s first 19 years were the greatest of any American soccer player. He'll probably be one of the best American players for a long time to come. At least until he gets a serious girlfriend. Then all bets are off. 

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