Donovan or Dempsey or…Pulisic?!?

Donovan or Dempsey or…

Who is the best ever, Landon or Clint?  Clint or Landon?  Dempsey or Donovan?  Been a topic for a decade at least in USMNT circles.  Landon has the USMNT numbers, but Clint has the European career.   But is it really between those two or has Christian Pulisic already eclipsed both?   Let’s do this sports radio style and try and break it down between the three iconic USMNT attackers.  Let’s assess them in the four pillars of soccer development and then their national team career.

Physical Ability 

This is a measure of a player’s size and strength, but also coordination and speed.  All three were top athletes with superior coordination.  Donovan was faster than Dempsey.  Dempsey was bigger and stronger than Donovan.  I don’t know who would be faster at top speed, Donovan or Pulisic, but watching both play, Pulisic is faster getting to top speed with the ball at his feet.  I think we can leave it at that, Donovan probably fastest at top speed, Pulisic quickest, and Dempsey the strongest.

Verdict:  Even 


This is the ability of the player to manage the ball individually.  While Donovan and Dempsey had good first touches and were technically sound, especially for an American of their eras, they don’t measure up to the technical skill Pulisic has.  Finishing with the feet and head is also apart of the game and Dempsey is by far the best header in the group.  Donovan was also an excellent shooter even if his most famous goal was an easy one.   But there is a reason one of the biggest clubs in the world paid $70MM for one of these players.

Verdict:  Pulisic


This is a harder category to quantify.  All three probably have a sound tactical understanding or they couldn’t have been dominant players for the USMNT.  So, let us use who has played at the highest level and thus, had to use their tactical knowledge closest to the peak of the sport.  In that case, one player has more Champions League caps than the other two combined.  Not only does Pulisic have more Champions League appearances than Dempsey and Donovan, he has more than any other American ever, and had that at 21!.  Chelsea and Dortmund are bigger clubs than Fulham or Everton or Tottenham at the time Dempsey moved there.

Verdict:  Pulisic


This is another tough one to quantify.  We also haven’t seen Pulisic’s full career play out and how he handles adversity in the future.  To date, it is impressive as he went to Europe at 16 and is showing the way forward for an entire generation.  Donovan had short stints in Europe but mostly couldn’t handle the mental aspect.  But he also had to carry the burden of an entire league for a long period.  Dempsey had tremendous adversity as a young player just trying to get on the field.  He was an incredible competitor on and off the field.  

Five years from now, this one might be more obvious for or against Pulisic.  Right now, it is hard to pick between the three.

Verdict:  Dempsey and Pulisic

USMNT career

A final category that is not part of the four pillars but very much what people will want discussed.  Certainly, Pulisic is by far the best at 19. 

He is on pace to exceed the 57 USMNT goal record shared by Dempsey and Donovan.  Missing the 2018 World Cup and the Covid epidemic did not help though.  Also, his club career could also get in the way as there are fewer games for players not based in MLS.  Donovan has the trump card of 58 assists which is far more than Dempsey and doubtful Pulisic gets that many (he has 9 to date).  Will Pulisic get to the 157 caps that Donovan reached?  Hopefully!  Until then, you have to give this to Donovan.

Verdict:  Donovan

Winner:  Christian Pulisic

This incredibly scientific thesis comparing three players that hardly ever played in the same league at the same time in their careers, has come to the conclusion by a 3-1-1 margin that Christian Pulisic is the best American attacker ever.  Who will be next to enter this conversation?

Open to all arguments on twitter @pkeeler167.