USMNT fans will never truly appreciate Landon Donovan until after tonight. Hours after he makes takes his international farewell lap in East Hartford, celebrates what should be a victory against Ecuador with his teammates and fans, begrudgingly shakes hands with Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and takes off his #10 US jersey for the final time, we will understand just how much Donovan means to soccer in the USA. Sure his fans where often frustrated but the following are just a few things to keep in mind as we watch Donovan ride off into the sunset.
The MLS is a better place because of Landon Donovan.
Anyone who has followed Donovan’s career knows the strange duality that has become his trademark. The young can’t miss teenage prospect who burst onto the scene seemingly reached a wall both for club and internationally before his prime. Not wanting to take a supplemental role in England and Germany, Donovan chose to return to the MLS and his hometown Galaxy. Instead of sharpening his skills in the best leagues in Europe Donovan returned to the US, a move some thought to be a step down, maybe even cowardly. Whether he intended it or not, Donovan has helped turn the MLS from a mediocre league struggling to keep its head above water into a profitable power in a region ruled by the Mexican Liga MX. You could say Donovan wasted his talent by leaving Europe, I like to say he brought his talent back home and raised our domestic game.
Donovan was not GREAT but he was consistently GOOD.
Landon Donovan is both the MLS and USMNT all-time leading scorer. As the best American soccer player of his generation, these are two records vital to achieve that status. Under his watch he helped lead his club to three domestic titles and country to four CONCACAF championships. Donovan is also the only American international to boast 50/50 goal and assist in international appearances. Donovan also appeared in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 editions of the World Cup, scoring in all three. When his country called Donovan always answered and delivered.
Landon Donovan is a 100% American product.
The international soccer scene is littered with foreign born players suiting up for adoptive nations in need of a quick talent boost. It’s nothing new and in reality, nothing to be ashamed about. (World champion Germany might as well be Poland.) Landon Donovan was a member of the U.S. Soccer residency program’s first class in Bradenton Florida. The Bradenton campus was set up to develop American talent to be able to compete with the worlds powers. Donovan, a SoCal kid born and bred, is the crowning achievement of the American soccer development system. More will come and some will be better but Landon Donovan was the first great Made in the USA player.
Donovan saved his best for Mexico
For years before Landon Donovan El Tri held a commanding stranglehold in the Mexico/USA rivalry. In his first game against the Mexicans Donovan scored the opening goal in what would be a 2-0 win in front of a pro-Mexico crowd in his hometown of Los Angeles. His first goal would go on to be the first of six but his most important would be at the 2002 World Cup where he helped to knock out El Tri and advance the stars and stripes further than it had ever gone before. For long suffering USMNT fans Donovan’s exploits against the hated Tricolor gave them bragging rights in a once lopsided rivalry. In turn, winning against Mexico usually meant being king of the hill in CONCACAF, which also meant international legitimacy. Throughout the years Donovan went from being the Mexican public enemy #1 to earning a place of honor and distinction among El Tri fans. Amongst those bidding adieu to Donovan tonight there will also be plenty of El Tri fans giving a tip of the sombrero.
Eventually America will produce enough talent where one will surpass Donovan, maybe even break his records. Nobody will be happier to see this than Donovan who for a decade bled red white and blue. Farewell Landon Donovan, thanks for all the memories!