The Last Stride

Noah Davis, writing for Grantland, on Landon Donovan’s final appearance as a player with the USMNT:

Donovan was not the star we wanted, but he was the star we deserved. He carried the game as far as he could. He was the best, most visible player the U.S. had, as the program moved from half-empty stadiums to soccer-specific venues, multimillion-dollar contracts for American stars, and a domestic league that averages higher attendance per game than the NBA and NHL. Donovan didn’t make that happen on his own, but his stardom helped facilitate it. A reluctant star can still be vital, as long as he keeps showing up.

I still can’t believe or fully understand why it ended the way it did, but I’m glad he got his final game. Such an incredible career.

Out With the Old

In breathtaking fashion, Jurgen’s USMNT set its mark on this year’s World Cup in record time, netting a goal faster than any other American side in history. So much was said leading up to this US team’s World Cup campaign – out with the old, in with the new – how fitting that it was a member of the old guard, Clint Dempsey, finding the back of the net at the 34 second mark of the match. It is the third different World Cup that Dempsey has scored and represents so much about what he has meant for American soccer (football), especially with his success abroad.

Without a doubt, this is Jurgen’s team, and the quick score echoes that sentiment louder than any roster omission or foreign-born recruit. It was Dempsey that sent America into a frenzy early, but it was Klinsmann’s dogged determination in John Brooks who delivered the deciding goal, fed beautifully by America’s final substitution, Graham Zusi – the only sub Jurgen was able to make of his own volition due to injury or threat of injury. One has to wonder if that ball might have been fed by … well never mind, I won’t say it.

There were definitely moments where it looked like we were still the same America – content to try to ride out the last 45 minutes of the match with the one goal lead, resigning themselves to settle for a draw. But they didn’t. They fought and they took advantage of their chances. For once, America were the opportunistic side, ceding control to the Black Stars for most of the second half but mostly surviving the onslaught. If resilience is what Klinsmann brings, it showed in this first match. It was tenuous for much of the match, but I liked what I saw. I hope they can keep it up.

Leaving Landon

In January 2010, the stars aligned1 and I attended Landon Donovan’s debut at Goodison Park during his first stint with EPL’s Everton FC. Back in Europe after a less than fruitful early-career stint in Germany and six months before the shot heard ’round the world, Landon Donovan was on his way back. Donovan’s successful winter in Liverpool and his heroics in the World Cup set the stage and expectations for the next four years into high gear. And then, halfway through, burnout.

Fast forward to May 21st, 2014. Landon Donovan has returned to soccer, has returned to the US Men’s National Team and has re-emerged triumphant on the pitch. Grantland’s Noah Davis offers a prospectus on the future of American soccer, a prospectus that includes Landon Donovan even if only as a bridge from America’s mediocre football past to its seemingly bright future.

Bridges, oh how they burn.

On May 22nd, 2014, Jurgen Klinsmann’s 2014 World Cup roster is announced, and one name is notably missing. In an instant, the man who has scored more World Cup goals than Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, and Robin van Persie combined, more international goals than any US player in history, and more MLS goals than any other player in the league’s relatively young history is left to watch the World Cup at home like the rest of us.

I won’t pretend that I follow US Soccer with any more than passing glances at box scores and occasional forays into soccer blog rabbit holes. I love watching World Cup soccer, though, and for all of my adult life that has meant watching Landon Donovan. I have to admit, I took the news of Donovan’s exclusion from the roster like a punch in the stomach. I think we all did. The idea, the opportunity for one last hurrah; a farewell, of sorts, for Donovan on football’s biggest stage was just too good to ignore.

Donovan deserves his farewell, as much as anyone deserves such a thing, and I still believe he earned a place on this roster. But as much as Donovan deserves our respect and adoration, so too does Klinsmann deserve the right to build his team his way. I don’t have to agree with every Klinsmann decision to love what he’s doing and how he’s shaping the future of American soccer. This one stings, but I know this decision can’t take away what Landon has given us and I’m excited about what is still yet to come.

  1. A close friend graduating from Durham University, his dad a lifelong Everton fan, and serendipitous timing.

Additional Reading

SBNation: Why Landon Donovan’s Legacy Couldn’t Carry Him to the World Cup

Grantland: The Landon Donovan Decision

Slate: Why Jurgen Klinsmann Never Trusted Landon Donovan

Raleigh & Co.: Thank You, Landon