Jun 3, 2014

Landon Donovan

Is the greatest soccer player the United States has ever produced, and yet, unlike his friend and teammate, DaMarcus Beasley, Donovan will not be playing in his fourth FIFA World Cup Finals.

Donovan's World Cup CV is astounding, as well.  It is not as if he was just coasting through his nation's most important matches.  In fact, he has scored more goals in the World Cup Finals than some of the more illustrious strikers from other nations, including Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

But, there has always been a nagging sense that as great as Donovan was, that he still could have been even better.  That he could have been, in addition to being the greatest US soccer player ever, he might have been one of the world's best footballers, period.

If that is the case, then what was it that held him down? I believe it is the same thing that is keeping him out of the 2014 World Cup Finals:  Attitude.

Donovan has always carried with him an attitude that suggests he is cocky, or a bit of a diva. Lots of the world's greatest athletes have attitudes like that.  Many argue it may be essential to reaching elite achievement in sport, or art, or business, or life.

The first real instance of it possibly impairing Donovan's career advancement, though, came when he was playing in Germany in the Bundesliga.  He was young, and had already scored goals in the World Cup, and, even by then, was probably considered one of the greatest US-born footballer's ever.

He did not play well in Germany.  He sulked and moaned and bitched about probably everything in the entire experience of big-time European Club Football.

Unfortunately for him, the current USMNT coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, was working in the Bundesliga at the time, and was, I am sure, privy to every single Donovan story coming out of Leverkusen.

But it gets worse.  Right on the eve of the USMNT's 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign, Donovan told Klinsmann that he was burned out and needed some time off.  Even if it is not technically the case, that attitude smacks of someone who does not want to rehearse, and expects to be the star when the lights go on.

Klinsmann was not impressed.  By the time Donovan was ready to return to the national side, the US were cruising through the Hex, and well on their way to Brazil.  Klinsmann, in a sense, demoted Donovan by forcing him to play in the Gold Cup, with essentially the US B-team.  Donovan did as he was told, and was the star of the tournament, which the US won.

It was not enough.  Klinsmann left Donovan off the team for Brazil.  Cue hue and cry!

The last time the media called for Klinsmann's head the USMNT ran off twelve wins in a row, so I am keen to give Klinsmann the benefit of the doubt, even though I bloody well know that the United States will not win this World Cup Finals, or possibly even make it out of their brutal group.

Klinsmann has a plan for the future that sees the USMNT as legitimate World Cup contenders in 2018 and 2022.  Contenders in the sense that they could reach the Semis, the Finals, or win the whole damn thing.  I am not kidding.

As much as I wish Landon Donovan was in Brazil, I understand why he is not, and I think it was the right decision by Klinsmann.  Even if the USMNT are unable to break from their group this month, I still think Klinsmann made the right call.

I have always loved difficult or feisty artists and athletes, and I will always love Landon Donovan, and all his brilliant goals, and the way he got under the skin of every Mexican El Tri supporter.  Despite the uneasy small feeling that he could have even been better, I consider myself lucky to have been able to witness the greatest footballer from the United States ever.

My favorite Donovan goal? As much as I love his dagger in El Tri's heart in 2002, I have to go with his goal against Slovenia in 2006.  When it looked as if the World Cup was slipping away from the US he point blank scored one on one with a laser of a top shelf strike that literally had the goalkeeper going backwards in a pathetic effort to stop it.  After the goal, as Donovan was being congratulated by his teammates, Donovan seemed to shrug them off, and kept pointing to his head, yelling at the entire team, as if to say, "What the fuck? Where are you guys? Use your head! Am the only guy playing here?"

Nine days to World Cup!


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