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People Tend To Forget That Landon Donovan Was Fun As Hell With Everton

Christian Pulisic is better than Landon Donovan. That’s not my opinion — that’s Landon Donovan’s. At the age of 22, Pulisic has established himself at Chelsea. Donovan, at 22, was experiencing one of his least productive MLS seasons with an average San Jose Earthquakes team.

The conclusion of that 2004 MLS season would see Donovan again return to Bayer Leverkusen after his initial failure to adapt at the tender age of 17. It wouldn’t go any better this time around, and Donovan demanded a return to MLS — joining the LA Galaxy — while his reputation for turning into fluffy cake batter overseas was established.

The power of viewing the long game, however, allows us to dispense of that infamous label, because people frequently forget that Donovan was fun as hell during both of his loan stints with Everton. 

In total, the Golden Boy 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’s made 45 appearances, scoring 11 goals and providing seven assists. 

The fact that Pulisic hasn’t yet matched Donovan’s assist total tells you just how effective the Californian was in the final third at the height of his power, and many of those glorious Donovan moments in an Everton shirt have been somewhat lost through the passage of time. 

For example, this assist to Victor Anichebe after collecting the ball out wide, driving inside and dissecting the backline with a perfectly weighted ball, is exactly the sort of play we’ve come to expect from Pulisic.    

There were also great moments against the royalty of English football. Everton’s 2-0 win against Chelsea during the 2011-12 season was highlighted by this Donovan assist for Denis Stracqualursi. David Luiz didn’t stand a chance, and the slipped through ball is pure quality.   

There was a similar story against Manchester City, where Donovan’s cushioned touch and layoff for Darron Gibson allowed Everton to record a 1-0 victory against the then Premier League leaders. 

The American’s delivery from out wide was also hugely underrated. 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 rasping angular drive before setting up Jack Rodwell from a similar position at the end of the match. 

And his first Premier League goal, scored against Sunderland, is always worth a watch. 

“I was maturing mentally and understood the game, I was not going to be overwhelmed by anything ever again,” Donovan says when reflecting on his time at Everton. “Tim (Howard) told me David Moyes would watch players 15 times before signing them, so there was a reason he was bringing me. He wanted me to have an impact. The two periods I had with Everton were the most enjoyable stretches of my career.”

Over the next few years the comparisons between Donovan and Pulisic will only increase as the Pennsylvania native appears in his first World Cup and steadily climbs the all-time scoring and assisting charts for the USMNT. 

Rather than being forced to take an Alexi Lalas type stand on the matter, perhaps we’d be better served as viewing the comparison as mutually complementary; here are two footballers that play with the sort of joy, directness and confidence that makes the game worth watching.   

“He’s so tidy in tight spaces,” Aaron Long once told ESPN about Pulisic. “His acceleration, and it’s not just his top speed, it’s quickness and top speed mixed together. I think Michael Bradley described it as light, almost like a Landon Donovan how he’s so light on his feet. The way he can dribble around defenders and make it look effortless is crazy. It’s something I’ve never seen before.”

Old head U.S. supporters are lucky enough to have seen it twice.

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