Pennsylvanian teenager Christian Pulisic has set American soccer fans’ imaginations alight with his sudden arrival an elite European club. At just 18 years old, Pulisic has not only earned a place in manager Thomas Tuchel’s team at Borussia Dortmund, he’s shown flashes that have people talking him up as the potential greatest American player of all time.
Is that hype? Sure, but at least Pulisic is giving people good reason to get excited at the top level. The history of American soccer is awash with highly touted teenagers who either never met their supposed potential or who took a few years before they fulfilled it.
With Pulisic’s rocket ride to stardom in mind, we’ve put together a gallery of eight Americans who earned attention while still teenagers; some who came good, some who did not, and some who are still shy of their twentieth birthday even now.
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Freddy Adu may have been the most famous teenager in American soccer history, and one of first American players to be known worldwide. Adu's story--signed at 14, overhyped like crazy, thrust into Sierra Mist ads with Pele--remains a cautionary tale invoked in every case of an American teenager popping into the soccer consciousness since. Adu was (is?) innately talented, but was probably ruined in by the early exploitation of that talent by MLS and others.
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Jozy Altidore was the classic "raw" striker when the soon-to-be Red Bulls drafted him out of Boca Raton, Florida in 2006. He debuted at 16 and was good enough in New York to earn a transfer to Villarreal of Spain for $10 million transfer--a record sale price for an MLS player to this day. After bouncing around Europe for a number of years, Altidore is now 26 and again plying his trade in MLS. His international resume is strong and includes 37 goals for the USMNT.
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Very rarely are defenders identified and hyped so young, but English-American centerback Cameron Carter-Vickers is already being touted as the future at his position for both Tottenham Hotspur and the USMNT. At 18, Carter-Vickers is still in the stage of his development where youth level games and the occasional cup match make up most of his minutes. Not yet cap-tied, Carter-Vickers could end up playing for England if Jurgen Klinsmann and company drag their feet too long.
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Drafted by D.C. United in 2000, the 16-year old Bobby Convey was the youngest player ever signed by MLS at the time. He went on to Reading a few years later, helping the Royals earn promotion to the Premier League. An extremely gifted left winger, Convey sometimes had clashes with managers and never really lived up to his potential.
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Yes, Landon Donovan just un-retired at the age of 34, but way back in 1999 he was a precocious 17-year old burning up the U17 World Cup in New Zealand. His performance there earned him the Golden Ball for best player and a contract with Bayer Leverkusen. It didn't work out in Germany, but Donovan went on to have a pretty decent career.
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As a member of U.S. Soccer's residency academy in Bradenton, Eddie Gaven signed with MLS just after his 16th birthday in 2003--breaking the record held by Bobby Convey. Gaven set records for youngest goalscorer and All-Star Game selection with the MetroStars before moving to the Crew in 2005. Always a serviceable-to-very good winger in MLS, Gaven never really rose above that level, playing just 8 times for the USMNT.
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In many ways, Julian Green is similar to Pulisic. Both are attached to big clubs in Germany, both are attacking players, and both have been seen as the future of the USMNT. The similarities end with the reality that Green has played very little senior level soccer and was still in Bayern Munich's reserve squad at the age Pulisic is now. After making the World Cup team in 2014 at 19 and even scoring against Belgium, Green's club fortunes took a bad turn. Now 21, Green is out of the USMNT picture while he tries to make headway on playing time in one of the most talent-rich clubs in the world.
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Eddie Johnson was a speedy 17-year old forward out of Florida when drafted by the then Dallas Burn in 2001. Despite the hype around him, Johnson saw limited time during his teenage years and didn't break through as a goalscorer until 2007--a season that earned him a move to Fulham. Forced to retire in 2015 due to a heart condition, Johnson's legacy is marked by his very up-and-down career.