Wednesday, June 23, 2010

American Hero

Soccer fans were questioning USA star Landon Donovan's credentials four years ago when he played a World Cup in which the Yanks didn't win a game.

Those fans and critics were muted today. And not just by those damn vuvuzelas.

With about three minutes left in a 0-0 game against Algeria, USA had their backs to the wall. England clinched a spot in the next round with a win against Algeria, forcing the US into a must-win situation.

It wasn't looking good.

Algeria had an open header from about 8-yards out that should have been a goal. That's it. Right there this game should have been over with the US going home with another disappointing World Cup showing. But then the soccer gods (or god, not sure if it is a pagan culture), feeling bad for the phantom foul called Friday in the USA-Slovenia game, gave the Yanks a break. OK, maybe the Algeria player just choked in the big moment. I'll take it either way.

The weak shot led to a quick counterattack led by the Captain Donovan. He dished the ball out wide to Jozy Altidore (I think) when he got to the area, which then led to a cross by Altidore. Clint Dempsey came flying in, but the Algeria keeper made a big stop. Unfortunately for him, the rest of his team just watched as Donovan appeared and drove the ball into the back of the net.

I have never been so excited about US soccer. Running through the office with my hands in the air and a smile as wide as possible, I was greeted with confusion by my boss and fellow employees. They don't know what the World Cup is, so they had no clue what just happened. I explained that the USA just scored in injury time and how wonderful it was. The response from my boss; "Oh no! That's terrible! Someone got hurt?"

There was no time to explain injury time to her, I just continued on my victory lap.

This is not about me and my reaction though. This is about how far Donovan has come in four years. After a great performance in the 2002 World Cup, Donovan fell off the earth in 2006. He was timid and did not show the leadership USA fans expected and demanded. Just look at the game against Ghana. With the Yanks down a goal and needing a win, Donovan had a wide-open shot within 10 yards of the goal. Instead of shooting, or carrying the ball farther and then shooting, he made a pass and nothing came of the opportunity. He shied away from the big moments that called for heroes.

Fast forward to 2010, and everything has changed. The team went in with very little buzz. People were predicting another meltdown and a crushing defeat to England. Neither happened. Donovan didn't let it happen. Although he hardly did anything against England, he led the comeback charge against Slovenia in the next game.

Down 0-2, Donovan had the ball deep against the Charlie Browns. Four years ago, he might have tried to slide it across the area to a teammate. Instead, Donovan went right at the keeper and blasted the ball past him. He wasn't just trying to score, he was saying "You might stop it, but I'm taking your effing head off if you do!" The US rallied to tie the game shortly after, and should have won if not for a terrible call.

Today against Algeria it was Donovan answering the call again. Not only did he score the game-winning goal, but he created the entire play. He flew past what seemed like the whole Algeria team. He even had at least two bad touches during his run, but there was no stopping him.

The goal itself was nothing crazy. No bicycle. No ridiculous angle or placement. He was just following the play and was in the right place. That's what real captains do. They don't panic and they step up when the situation calls for it. Lesser players may have seen the open net, gotten too excited and piked the ball. Donovan calmly buried it. A casual onlooker would have had no idea one team's tournament lives were on the line.

Four years ago, Donovan might miss in that scenario. The man has grown before our eyes and hopefully this dramatic victory garners more attention for the team in this country.

Whitney Houston - Star-Spangled Banner


  1. The post game interview that started with Donovan crying was epic.

    I'm going to name my first son Landon and 2nd son Donovan.

  2. I missed the postgame. Sounds touching though.

  3. Jeff, you know I am not a soccer fan, but even I watched most of this game and was somewhat into it. The game itself felt like watching a 90 minute power play, the USA completely dominated the game with Algeria getting a chance every so often.

    Again, there were two goals wiped out, Dempsey's I think was on an offside goal that the ESPN guys thought was bogus. Didn't see the second one so I don't know about that. Lots of near misses, Dempsey's shot off the post, Altidore and Donovan going for the shot at the same time with an open net and the ball sailing high.

    The goal itself doesn't get points for style but was Donovan and to a lesser extent, Dempsey refusing to go quietly.

    They have committed me to watching their next game, which as Jeff can attest to is a huge step for me regarding the World Cup and soccer in general.

  4. Glad to have you on board, RJ. The whole play leading up to the goal was soccer at it's best. The game played at a high speed with a lot of things going on at once. No one on USA was standing around, they were all moving forward and it was just awesome.

    Yet baseball fans will still call soccer boring. I don't get it.

  5. I snuck out of work to watch the second half. Just as I had thought, 7 or 8 other dudes taking an early lunch to watch the match. The atmosphere at the Hop House was amazing. The whole place errupted when Donovan scored in 91'...I almost took out a waitress when I leaped out of my seat.
    I'm proud of Landon, he become such a better player late in his career.

    Would you all like to see him return to MLS or head over to England? I love watching Everton when he's over there.

  6. He should play in the Premier League while he's still young enough to hang with the big boys then come back to MLS to finish out his career.

  7. Everton would be better for his career, but I am selfish and think he should come back to MLS to help continue the sport's growth in this country.

  8. I think I'm with Greg on this one. I hope he goes to Everton, or some other Prem club. I think he can still help to grow the American game from playing in England. McBride did it, Dempsey is doing it.

    If he does return to Everton, Everton vs Fulham party at Sean's house this Fall.