You could refer to Landon Donovan as a five-time MLS Cup champion. You could refer to him as Major League Soccer’s all-time leading goal scorer. You could mention his 156 appearances for the United States, in which he played in three World Cups en route to becoming the country’s all-time leader in goals and assists.
Or you could simply refer to him as the greatest American soccer player ever.
Landon Donovan’s retirement marks the end of an era for U.S. soccer. Bursting onto the scene as a baby-faced 20-year-old in the 2002 World Cup, Donovan scored two goals and led the United States on a surprise run to the quarterfinals. He was named the tournament’s Best Young Player, while the rest of the world was forced to accept that American soccer is for real.
Donovan was the face of U.S. soccer, both domestically and internationally. After a successful loan spell for Everton in 2010, Donovan was offered an extension to stay in the Premier League. He turned down the offer and returned to the MLS; not because it was in his best interest, but in his country’s best interest. For soccer to grow in America, Landon Donovan had to be there.
All of this made Donovan’s recent exclusion from the 2014 World Cup roster that much harder to swallow. A man who had contributed and achieved so much for American soccer was left in the shadows by a new manager who chose younger players with less experience. This decision by Jurgen Klinsmann effectively marked the end of Donovan’s career.
The rift between Landon Donovan and Klinsmann is well documented. Donovan took a leave of absence from national team duties during World Cup qualifying, a decision that rubbed his manager the wrong way. When Donovan announced he was ready to return, Klinsmann took away his captaincy.
But Donovan remained the class act he had been throughout his entire career. He accepted his manager’s decision, and returned for the 2013 Gold Cup, scoring five times in six games while being named the tournament’s best player. This performance made one thing clear: no matter what personal problems Donovan had with Klinsmann, he was always dedicated to his country 110%.
At first, Klinsmann was criticized for his decision to leave Donovan at home for the World Cup. But after a strong performance by a Landon-less side, criticism turned into praise for the manager. Once viewed as a villain, Klinsmann was now the leader of a new generation of American soccer. A twist of the knife.
One day, Landon Donovan will be in the National Soccer Hall of Fame. While he retires a hero, there is no denying that the end to his storied international career was not as beautiful as the game he plays.
For legendary players in Europe and throughout the world, a testimonial match is often held to honor their careers. It acts as one last time to put on their team’s jersey and play in front of the fans that supported them through thick and thin. If there is one player who is deserving of a final send-off match, it is Landon Donovan. It is not right for his international career to end in anger and embarrassment. Without Donovan’s contributions to American soccer, a manager of Klinsmann’s caliber would have laughed at a job offer to coach the United States.
It is time for Klinsmann and Donovan to bury the hatchet. They must shake hands and accept each other’s places in American soccer history. After they shake hands, Donovan should walk onto the pitch in front of thousands of cheering fans. We all deserve to see Landon Donovan in the red, white and blue one last time. He deserves it too.