Since Landon Donovan’s final USMNT game is Friday night in East Hartford, CT, it’s time to talk about legacies. Yes, the well will certainly run dry on this topic in short order, but before it goes as bare as the Aral Sea, examining Landon’s legacy is important. Whether he is the best player to ever represent the Stars and Stripes is debatable. Whether or not he is the most important player to do so is, however, not debatable at all. So what is his legacy, other than being the most important player in the history of the beautiful game on these shores?
Simply put: Landon Donovan took the USMNT from a team that was just happy to be at a World Cup, to one that expects to be there and more.
When one thinks back to his first cap back in October of 2000, the USMNT was in a very different place. They were struggling somewhat in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, and were still adapting to life under Bruce Arena. The debacle that was France ’98 was well in the rearview mirror, but seeing the field through the trees was not easy. So Arena decided to gamble and give a cap to the Golden Ball winner of the 1999 U-17 World Cup in Nigeria. And the rest they say is history.
Landon always had a knack for the big occasion, and look at the 2002 World Cup as proof positive of that. Whenever the US needed a spark, Landon was always in the center of it, whether he was scoring or assisting. 38 of his 57 goals have come in competitive fixtures, including five World Cup goals. He was almost never invisible in his 156 caps, as he always made some sort of impact in every game. And you could tell how much it meant to him to represent the US every time he played, even with the pressure of being the big crossover star and wearing the No. 10 too.
Landon’s star has been fading for some time, but even then the outrage from him missing out on the 2014 World Cup roster had everything to do with his importance to all fans of the US National Team and belief in what he was at his prime, not necessarily in 2014. Prime Landon Donovan was transcendent not only in the States, but in Europe too. US Soccer hasn’t had another player like him, and his heir apparent is still largely unknown.