Clint Mathis

Who was Landon Donovan’s best attack partner for the USMNT?

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It’s a tricky question that boils down to taste and much as statistics, and lends itself to a great deal of debate: Which player was Landon Donovan’s best partner en route to his United States men’s record for caps and goals?

As we head into Friday’s “au revoir” match for Donovan, a lot of memories pop up (many we’ll be exploring in the coming days in this space. But a lot of teammates come to mind as well: Brian McBride, Jozy Altidore, Clint Mathis, Eddie Johnson. The list goes on and on.

[ LegenD: Donovan’s World Cup career | Details on Friday playing time/arm band ]

Who was Donovan’s best partner in crime while donning the stars and/or stripes?

We can start with some statistics. In games Donovan scored, here are players who also scored:

Scored in same game as Donovan with USMNT (occurrences)

Once -Kirovski, Lewis, Stewart, Ralston, Cooper, Bornstein, Conrad, Twellman, Hejduk, Feilhaber, Robinson, Jones, Altidore, Onyewu, Casey, Gomez, Bedoya, Orozco, Holden, Diskerud

Twice – Corona, Goodson

Thrice – Wondolowski, Wolff, Mathis, McBride, Ching, Bocanegra, Dempsey

Four times – Bradley

Five times – lone goal scorer, Eddie Johnson

Six times – DaMarcus Beasley

Surprised? Perhaps not, as Beasley has played a boatload of games and his move to defender isn’t so long ago that we don’t recall his afterburners rolled out in pure attack mode.

But it isn’t just about scoring in the same game, obviously, which is why we bring up the point of personal taste. When thinking of who fits with Donovan it’s a bit of a challenge. He was 18 when he scored that first goal, assisted my Clint Mathis. Their mix of skills could be a handful for any defender.

[ USMNT: Klinsmann adds Wondo for Friday | Formation exploration ]

And then of course there’s McBride. The two complemented each other so well. And Jozy Altidore reaped massive benefits from Donovan, as did Eddie Johnson in his first “on” year.

Beasley deserves a shout, too. Honestly, we can’t be sure these two won’t go down as symbiotic parts of US Soccer from 2001-2006.

The answer, though, is probably Dempsey. Their primes ran very close together, with Dempsey first harvesting goals from Donovan’s prime and Landon’s best years lengthened by Dempsey’s surge into the spotlight. We’ll never know how things could’ve happened if Donovan didn’t need his sabbatical (which as a human I admire).

A Donovan that danced into the Jurgen Klinsmann era with optimistic and enthusiasm could’ve turned this summer’s World Cup into something magical and perhaps even benefited his form. Alas, it’ll always be a “What could’ve been.”

We don’t need to deal with the “could’ve”, though, when it comes to Landon Donovan. It’s an argument for bars way down the line. One of the most important USMNT players ever is retiring. And what a ride it was.

U.S. federation announces another strong National Soccer Hall of Fame nominee class

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Another tough round of voting is ahead as the final list of nominees was announced for the National Soccer Hall of Fame Class of 2014.

In its release today on the nominees, U.S. Soccer says voting will begin immediately in three categories: Player, Veteran Player and Builder. Voting continues through Feb. 7.

Hall of Fame voters – including coaches and officials from the pro game, U.S. Soccer coaches and officials, designated media members and Hall of Famers – can list up to 10 candidates on their ballot. For the Player category, athletes appearing on two-thirds (66.7 percent) of voter ballots are elected. Players not appearing on at least five percent of ballots will be subtracted from the ballot (pending availability for the Veterans ballot.)

It’s not easy to gain the needed percentage. Two years ago only four players were selected: Tony Meola, Claudio Reyna, Tony DiCicco and Desmond Armstrong. A year ago only two made the cut: Joe-Max Moore and Peter Vermes.

These really are tough choices. On this ballot there are guys who were first to important MLS scoring mileposts (Jason Kreis), guys that surely would have caught up with them but for career-ending injuries (Taylor Twellman) guys who accomplished so much despite unfortunate injuries (John O’Brien), plenty of women’s players who won multiple World Cups or Olympic golds (Kristine Lilly and Brianna Scurry just to name a couple), guys who scored huge World Cup goals (Clint Mathis, Brian McBride — pictured above), huge MLS international stars (Marco Etcheverry) … and the list goes on.

In fact, here’s the entire list:

2014 National Soccer Hall of Fame Player Ballot

  • Chris Armas
  • Raul Diaz Arce
  • Marco Etcheverry
  • Lorrie Fair
  • Robin Fraser
  • Chris Henderson
  • Zoran Karic
  • Chris Klein
  • Jason Kreis
  • Eddie Lewis
  • Kristine Lilly
  • Kristin Luckenbill
  • Shannon MacMillan
  • Kate Sobrero Markgraf
  • Clint Mathis
  • Brian McBride
  • Jaime Moreno
  • Victor Nogueira
  • John O’Brien
  • Ben Olsen
  • Cindy Parlow Cone
  • Steve Ralston
  • Ante Razov
  • Tiffany Roberts
  • Tony Sanneh
  • Briana Scurry
  • Taylor Twellman

Looking back at Real Salt Lake’s top moment, the 2009 MLS Cup triumph:

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The great thing for Real Salt Lake fans who look back on the 2009 MLS Cup win is that the core of that team will line up Saturday at Sporting Park – the bulk of it, anyway.

It was Nick Rimando in goal; Nat Borchers on patrol in the back; Kyle Beckerman at the bottom of RSL’s midfield diamond, and; Javier Morales making the plays and controlling possession from the top of the diamond.

Plus, Ned Grabavoy played a big role in the 2009 triumph, something a few folks may forget. What else happened that cold day in Seattle? Let’s take a look back at a few of the key happenings that day:

  • Real Salt Lake claimed the day in a penalty kick shootout over the starry LA Galaxy. What I wrote that day for ESPN.com: “The overachievers from one of the league’s smallest markets overcame ample hardship thanks to superior fitness and, even more, to a goalkeeper [Nick Rimando] who specializes in turning away spot shots. The Utah side also had just enough shooters able to remain calm under pressure, as a blue-collar club with no real front-line international stars claimed a 5-4 edge in a tiebreaker that went seven shooters deep.”
  • The game was deadlocked at 1-1 after 90 minutes, and after extra time as well.  Mike Magee had scored in the 41st minutes for the Galaxy; Robbie Findley supplied RSL’s 64th-minute equalizer. (Hmmm … Magee and Findley scoring in the post-season? Sound familiar?)
  • A lot of people forget that Javier Morales left the game early (22nd minute) injured. What a blow. His replacement: Clint Mathis! Honestly, I had forgotten about Mathis’ role in this one. Plus, Will Johnson was limited by a bout with food poisoning. Ned Grabavoy replaced him, and quite effectively so.
  • Landon Donovan was the Galaxy’s fourth tiebreaker shooter. Historically, the guy has proven as sure a PK taker as you’ll ever see … but not on this night. His shot flew well high, yet another failure in a bit of a burgeoning litany of them against Rimando.
  • The Jason Kreis story was just beginning. He was already the youngest MLS coach to date when he first took to the suit and the sidelines in 2007. Two years later, on that chilly, wet Seattle night, Kreis became the youngest manager to win MLS Cup, still a month from his 37th birthday.
  • A big narrative that developed out of MLS Cup 2009 was this idea that Designated Players may gin up an MLS club’s exposure, but the DP dandies do not necessarily win titles. This was the third championship decided after MLS instituted its innovative DP rules. And for the third year, a team without one of these recognized stars claimed the title. This was the best example yet, Real Salt Lake (small of market, balanced of salary) vs. the DP-loving Galaxy, with Landon Donovan and David Beckham on the roster.
  • Finally, Seattle as MLS Cup hosts? Two words: Awe. Some.

ProSoccerTalk’s MLS CUP COVERAGE

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Report says Jason Kreis on sure track to take NYCFC job; the RSL manager just frowns

  • Sporting Kansas City

What we learned as SKC dispatched Houston in the Eastern finals

  • MLS Cup general

MLS Cup will close banner 2013 season for Sporting Park

MLS Cup first: manager who are both former players in the league

Debunking the myth of Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake as bitter rivals

MLS Cup history: the three best finals yet

Looking at how the playoff format worked in 2013