Landon Donovan’s racked up a lot of miles. He started playing professionally at the age of 17. In the 13 years that’ve followed, he’s made 141 appearances for his national team. Having gone through so many battles, you can forgive him if, at times, he doesn’t look like the same spry attcaker we saw at World Cup 2002.
But every once in a while, Donovan can turn back the clock. For 90 minutes, he can be the quickest man on the field. Add that to his ability to read the game and you have a combination that can define games in this part of the world.
It would be a stretch to say Donovan defined tonight’s 3-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda, but with most of the U.S. Men’s National Team struggling to impose themselves (on an opponent that insisted on being an imposition), the U.S. surprisingly needed one of Donovan’s turn back the block nights. One step ahead and two steps faster than everybody else on the field, Donovan played in part in all three goals as a flat United States took full points from their World Cup 2014 qualifier.
It began in the eighth minute, with Donovan drilling a corner to just outside the six. The play that followed ended in Carlos Bocanegra’s 13th career international goal. While most of the work was done after the kick, the play foreshadowed a night of good service from Donovan, who whipped in a vicious first half restart that Clarence Goodson nearly hammered home.
With the U.S. struggling to find a second goal before half, Donovan made his most significant contribution of the night. Working with Clint Dempsey on the left side, Donovan burst past Antigua and Barbuda’s defenders onto a ball in the left of the penalty area. A panicked Marvin McCoy took him down, leading to Clint Dempsey’s (ultimately) game winning goal.
After the visitors pulled one back, Donovan started the play that led to the U.S.’s final goal. Breaking through the left side of Antigua and Barbuda’s defense, Donovan got behind the line, turned the defense and cut a ball back to the top of the box. The ball eventually found its way to Herculez Gomez, who gave the U.S. its final margin of victory.
It wasn’t a perfect night for Donovan. On a couple of clear second half chances, Donovan bought into the team’s frustrating refusal to put the ball on goal. Two times he demurred, playing the ball into the six. Two times he made life easy on his opponents.
But late in the game, in a similar situation, Donovan’s instincts served him well. Forced to take a ball toward the line, he put a ball back into the six that nearly forced an own goal.
Donovan didn’t need a perfect night to be the team’s best man. In a game where his teammates underwhelmed, he was one of the few players who showed a desire to dominate his opponent. Be it on the right, left, or standing over dead balls, the U.S.’s all-time leading scorer led by example. Had the rest of the team match his effort, the U.S. would have posted the lopsided result fans were expecting.
With apologies to Carlos Bocanegra (who scored an played a strong emergency left back), Donovan was the U.S.’s best player. Again.