Daily Archives: 23 June 2010

Landycakes no more

Landon Donovan scores v. Algeria, 23 June 2010 (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

In the future, we’ll look back at 23 June 2010 and realize that it was that day that Landon Donovan grew up.

To be sure, he’s matured immeasurably over the last two years or so. Most of that has to do with him finally accepting his position in US soccer’s player hierarchy and history. Donovan is the most talented player in US history. Now that he’s seeing that as more blessing than curse, he’s thriving.

Example A: his tenure with the Los Angeles Galaxy. He’s a leader and refuses to back down from anyone, not even Goldenballs himself. Example B: his work with the national team. Although Carlos Bocanegra is the captain and Tim Howard is the vocal leader, Donovan commands everyone’s respect. He’s the key for the strikers and the midfielders and they play off his vibe. He’s quietly confident now. Clint Dempsey’s rise has helped, because Dempsey is vocal where Donovan is quiet. At the same time, Dempsey and Donovan can switch sides without a large drop-off in skill level, a huge tactical advantage and a huge psychological burden lifted from Donovan.

The best, and final example, is Donovan’s 3-month long loan spell at Everton. In contrast to his stay in Germany, Donovan thrived in England. And the reason he thrived has everything to do with his maturity. Donovan accepted his position and the pressure and used it as a motivating factor, rather than getting psychologically crushed by it. Donovan was a revelation in England, and that led directly to today’s goal.

Donovan’s always had the ability to score. He’s not even 30 and he’s US soccer’s all-time leading scorer. He’s always been clinical, to a degree. But he’s never been happy with the result. It was like every time he scored, it was just another burden, something else to make him stick out from the crowd. After he scored the most important goal in US soccer history, there was genuine joy on his face. Even after the mob broke up, the smile remained. Donovan’s leadership and maturity and, most importantly, hard work over the last 2 years led to that goal.

So, no longer will I call him Landycakes. He’s Landon Donovan now. And US soccer is far better for it.

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The most important win in US soccer history

US players celebrate Landon Donovan's goal v. Algeria (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Sure, that could be hyperbole. And I could be wrong in less than a week. But for now, the United States’ 1-0 victory over Algeria on 23 June 2010 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, is the biggest win in US soccer history.

The victory, sealed by Landon Donovan’s injury time goal at 91 minutes, was a long time coming. In the last game, a comically bad decision by Koman Coulibaly denied Maurice Edu a winner and the US a victory. But the result – a comeback draw – was still acceptable. Today, in the 20th minute, Clint Dempsey was called offside. Wrongly. The soccer gods were against the US for some reason. To add more insult to injury, the soccer gods rewarded a thoroughly unimpressive England team with a goal from Jermain Defoe. But the US didn’t give up. They kept doing the things that the soccer gods appreciate: work hard, pass crisply, keep shooting. Finally, the soccer gods rewarded them for their effort: Clint Dempsey’s low blast ricocheted off Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi and into Landon Donovan’s path. Donovan slotted it home, lighting Loftus Versfeld Stadium in red, white, and blue.

With that goal, the US won its World Cup group for the first time since 1930. It advanced to the knockout stage, and erased the awful memories of 2006. I submit that this win is more important the famous win over England in 1950. To be sure, the 1950 win was less expected (although the US was still seen as a pretty big underdog; witness the newspaper coverage). While the draw was a surprise to some, it was not a surprise to the players.

This US team expects to win games and expects to hang with the soccer elite. This game, the last in the group stage, shows that the US means business. They’ll have a chance to prove that again when they play Ghana on Saturday.

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