Landon Donovan deserves some love. His performance and leadership this cycle has made this Donovan’s Team. He has proven himself in game after game and it is now time US fans accept and appreciate Donovan for who he is – the leader of this team – not what we hoped he would become – an international star. He is not among the elite best in the world, as Alexi Lalas claimed, but he is world class and is by far our best player and for us to make noise in South Africa, Donovan will likely have to be the noise-maker.
Most longtime US fans have mixed feelings about Donovan. Following the 02 World Cup the new savior of American soccer – our first true potential international star – flamed out of Europe due to homesickness. Most felt that Donovan had trouble adjusting to a situation in which he was not fawned over and lacked the drive to overcome adversity and resented that Donovan was willing to trade some of his soccer potential for the good life in California. In the 06 World Cup Landon basically disappeared, lending credence to the claims that playing in MLS stymied his potential, as well as giving rise to the deserved nickname Landycakes.
Landycakes is now dead.
Since the 06 World Cup, Donovan has become not just a much smarter and better player, but a leader. It was telling at the beginning of this cycle when Bradley chose Bocanegra as captain instead of Donovan. Landon just didn’t seem like captain material. But that has changed. Rarely does he ever disappear in a game, the US attack flows through him, and he has upped his work rate on both sides of the ball. His poise is also a big reason why the U.S. has been able to come from behind so regularly. The icing on the cake was against Honduras, where he set up the first goal with a great through ball through to Casey and scored the game winner in a stunning free kick (boy do we need him to add that to his game).
Donovan also seems like a much more driven player. His time with Bayern Munich this past winter was perceived by many as a flop – but that I think is really harsh. Donovan nearly nicked a couple of goals, which if they went in his whole time would have been much different. It also didn’t help Klinnsman was on the outs and Munich were slipping in the standings. But what is notable, is that contrary to his last experience in Europe, this time Donovan wants to return.
However, whether he does return to Europe or not should not detract from his place as the leader of this team. There have been stand outs that have done more for their country than at the club level, Riquelme never quite thrived in Europe the way he did for Argentina. Mexican striker Jared Borgetti never broke through with Bolton. But that didn’t detract from how they were perceived in their home country. Donovan may have floundered a bit during this decade and yes we hold out disappointment and wonder over how good he might have been had it not longed for the California sun as much, but he is emerged into the leader of this team. Whether he actually has the arm band or not he will go to South Africa as Captain America.