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Pulisic, Dortmund fulfill wish for North Carolina boy battling cancer

Colin Donaldson of Salisbury, N.C., holds up a game-worn and signed Christian Pulisic jersey at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte July 23, 2018. Pulisic gave the boy his jersey after Dortmund's 3-1 win over Liverpool. (Mitchell Northam/Pro Soccer USA)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Christian Pulisic did enough dazzling in 45 minutes of play Sunday to overload a segment of Sportscenter.

With deft passing, superb dribbling and precise shooting, the American wunderkind scored twice and led Borussia Dortmund to a 3-1 win over Liverpool in the International Champions Cup. But for one local boy from North Carolina, the 19-year-old soccer star created his biggest highlight of the day after the whistle blew.

Colin Donaldson stood in the shadows in the bowels of Bank of America Stadium near the Dortmund locker room, hoping to catch a glimpse of Pulisic. Maybe his hero would wave. Maybe he’d say hello. Maybe he would give him a fist bump.

Pulisic spotted Donaldson and his family. He broke his stride toward the locker room and jogged over to them. He pulled the sweat-logged jersey off his back and had Colin hold it up. Pulisic scribbled his name on it and gave Colin a big hug.

“It was amazing,” Colin said of his interaction with Pulisic, as his mom was tasked with toting around the wet and smelly, yet priceless souvenir.

It was a bright spot for Colin, a 14-year-old who has battled cancer for the last few months.

He was at the game with his family – mom, Traci; dad, Seamus; and younger sister, Kate — and some people from the Make-A-Wish foundation, a non-profit organization that puts together events and experiences for children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Colin’s wish was to watch Borussia Dortmund play and meet the players, including his favorite, fellow American, Pulisic. Needless to say, it was granted.

“Pulisic scored the tying goal, the game-winner and kind of assisted on the last goal, too. Him scoring was the cherry on top,” Colin said. “It was amazing.”

Colin got a chance to go into the Dortmund locker room after the game to hang out with stars from the Bundesliga. In addition to Pulisic’s game-worn jersey, he took home a ball signed by every member of the team.

—  —  —

Like Pulisic, Colin wears No. 22 and plays on the right wing, in addition to some center midfield duties for the Lake Norman Soccer Club in North Carolina.

It was on the pitch in April that his parents noticed something was wrong.

“We say that soccer saved his life,” Traci Donaldson said.

Shortly after the family returned home to Salisbury, N.C., after a trip to Dublin, Ireland, Colin was back on the field and suiting up with Lake Norman. Soccer uniforms can be tight-fitting, and while Colin was playing in a pair of matches April 8, his father noticed a bulge around his stomach.

“What in the world is that?” Seamus Donaldson wondered.

“It didn’t look right,” Traci said.

The next day, the family was in the pediatrician’s office. Shortly after, they were sent to a nearby St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. The diagnosis was hard to take: their son had cancer. It was non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Since then, Colin’s soccer team, school and community rallied around him. T-shirts and wristbands with #KickItColin emblazoned on them were sold. Support poured in on social media. And he got a visit from the UNC-Charlotte 49ers soccer team.

Months later, Colin’s parents say things are looking better.

“We’re on the back end of it,” Traci said. “Things are looking good. He’ll get back on the soccer field soon.”

Soon, Colin will begin his sixth and final cancer treatment. It’ll be a tough road, but perhaps a bit easier while clutching an autographed ball from his favorite club.

“No doubt that spirits are high after today,” Seamus said.

Not only did Colin get to watch Dortmund play and meet the players afterwards, but he got to go on the field and be part of the opening coin toss.

“The Make-A-Wish folks did an excellent job, and the Carolina Panthers folks, too,” Seamus said.

—  —  —

The first half of the match was alike for Colin and Pulisic. Both of them sat and watched, Colin from the stands and Pulisic from the sidelines, as Liverpool took a 1-0 lead into halftime.

But Pulisic, a Hershey, Pa., native, jogged onto the field at the beginning of the second half and created offense almost instantly. In the 65th minute, with quick and nimble touches, Pulisic glided his way into the penalty area before he was brought down by a pair of defenders. The referee signaled for a penalty kick and Mario Gotze began to set up to take it.

Pulisic jogged over to his teammate, told him something and Gotze backed off. Some joked the message was probably something along the lines of, “My country, my penalty.”

This might have been problematic had Pulisic shanked the kick, but he didn’t. He buried the shot with a low, hard strike to the left, tying the game up.

Pulisic found the back of the net again in the 89th minute. Running towards the top-center of the box, he received a pass from Marcel Schmelzer. The American winger took one touch, then fired a blistering shot past Liverpool’s keeper for the go-ahead score.

“The second one was his best score,” Colin said. “Because it’s not one-on-one and he got past a few players.”

That run by Pulisic may have been the one that generated the most sweat. It came after he was already on the field for 44 minutes and at the end of long run.

Colin said he plans to frame the jersey that Pulisic gave to him, but will he wash it before it’s hung on his wall?

“No,” Colin said. “Never.”

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