There Will Never Be Another Landon Donovan

Tonight will be the last time Landon Donovan puts on a USA uniform as the Americans face Ecuador in Connecticut. Donovan will be captain and will play the first 30 minutes. The man is arguably the greatest American soccer player ever and owns MLS records for most goals and assists as well as a five time MLS Cup winner. With all the ups and downs of his career, there will never be another Landon Donovan.

He  is one of the most influential soccer players in the United States in that he is someone who youth soccer players now want to strive to be and be better than.

Case in point, I started playing soccer in 1995 when I was 7 years old. There was no soccer on TV. I didn’t even know or bother to know that it was played around the world or the sport was even played by adults because I never saw it. I never strived to be Alexi Lalas or Eric Wynalda or John Harkes because I didn’t know who the hell they were until they were long retired and I saw them commentating on TV years later.

Even when I was in high school, all that was on TV was the occasional Champions League or MLS game and the World Cup every four years, so I couldn’t follow too many players back then.

My point is that Landon Donovan was one of the first US Soccer players who kids could watch regularly and put him up as a benchmark as someone to be better than when they grow up. Today’s youth soccer players can consume more soccer than I ever dreamed of when I was their age. Granted TV, the internet and social media contributed to that influence but Donovan came at the right time for it.

The success of the United States National Team will be based in generations. A kid playing in a U-13 game today will watch Donovan play and will want to be better than him. 15 years later, another kid will want to come along and will want to strive to beat that kid, who is now grown up and playing for the US. Players like Donovan came at a time when that evolution began and we’re better off for it as a soccer nation.

Landon Donovan was at the forefront of some of the greatest moments in US Soccer history. The “dos a cero” games against Mexico, the Gold Cup wins, the Confederations Cup Final and this:

Each of those great moments included Landon Donovan in some capacity and now we’ll have to create some great moments without him, which will happen in due time. Just like in Brazil, we’ll move on and become even better with each new day.

Landon Donovan’s MLS career was something to behold. In 331 appearances, Donovan has the career record in goals scored (144 in regular season, 22 in playoffs) and assists (136 in regular season, 12 in playoffs) as well as five MLS Cups.

There’s no doubt Donovan helped progress MLS into being more popular than many thought possible just 15 years ago. Yet, choosing to play virtually his entire career in MLS there is a debate as to whether or not Landon Donovan really fulfilled his potential.

He started his career at Bayer Leverkusen and saw limited time so he went to MLS. With limited loan spells at Bayern Munich and Everton, that was the extent of Donovan’s European career. You can’t really blame him for the Leverkusen days because he was still a young player back then, but not making a permanent move to Europe seemed to be a missed opportunity to be better. I can only go by my experiences and not Landon’s, but if I was him, I wouldn’t have wanted to retire and think what might have been if I had made another run in Europe.

While he helped the domestic league grow, he created a missed opportunity to establish a pipeline for established American players to make a noticeable impact in top European leagues. It’s definitely a catch-22 but with Landon Donovan’s career, you can’t have the good without the bad and vice versa.

Lately in Donovan’s career, much has been said about him being dropped from the 2014 World Cup squad by Jurgen Klinsmann. I can’t get into the mind of Jurgen Klinsmann so I don’t know his thought process in keeping Donovan out. With what I know, I believe Jurgen made the right decision in keeping Landon out. The thing that turned me off on Landon Donovan playing in Brazil was when I was watching Episode 1 of Inside: US Soccer’s March to Brazil where this was said:

That was shown a few weeks before the announcement that Donovan was off the team but it was filled with foreshadowing and, quite honestly, we should have been less shocked about the announcement after hearing that in hindsight. Here’s a transcript of the exchange:

KLINSMANN: The evaluation process of every player is continuous, it never stops, it’s ongoing. And a lot of the media struggle with that. Landon Donovan, you know, the media thinks he’s untouchable. The media thinks he has to be in the starting lineup or he has to be in Brazil based on what he did and he did marvelous for soccer in the United States over the last 12, 14 years.

That’s not how it works, you know. I have to choose the best 23 players based on what I see today.

DONOVAN: Jurgen has made it clear to me that he needs me to be more consistent and performing. And sometimes that’s a little difficult for me.

I can’t train 12 straight days in a row and have 12 straight great days in a row. It’s physically, it’s not possible. My body breaks down, I’m getting older so, if he sees me perform poorly three straight days and we have a game the next day, he’s got to make the choice to play someone else. I understand that.

You know, there’s been times where I haven’t played well enough to deserve to start. There’s times where I’ve started games and haven’t played well enough to stay in the game and Jurgen has rightfully brought me out.

I want to make sure when I get to camp in May that I’m performing my absolute best.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for us all because a lot of us, including myself, still see Landon Donovan as the sharp 28 year old in his prime who got the goal against Algeria, but by 2014 he was a much older and much more broken down version of himself. The man said it himself.

Jurgen Klinsmann wasn’t around when Landon Donovan was at his best. Klinsmann came into the team with a clear mind and saw Donovan as the 32-year-old player that he is. A Jurgen Klinsmann team is built around fitness and conditioning and Donovan sadly didn’t have it in Klinsmann’s eyes. If Bruce Arena or Bob Bradley ran the US team, Donovan would have been in Brazil but instead, it was Jurgen Klinsmann and that was why Landon Donovan was in the United States while his peers were in Brazil.

In the end, I hope we can all remember the great things Landon Donovan did for us all, rather than what happened this year in Brazil.

Tonight, in Connecticut, we will see the last of a legend in a USA uniform. We can have our differing opinions on Landon Donovan and what all happened, but tonight, let’s all celebrate the man for who he is, an absolute #LegenD. #ThanksLD for the memories. There will never be another Landon Donovan.

About Phillip Bupp

News and soccer editor for The Comeback and I occasionally write for Awful Announcing and Freezing Cold Takes. I also do video highlight game coverage for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook @phillipbupp

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