In January 2010, the stars aligned1 and I attended Landon Donovan’s debut at Goodison Park during his first stint with EPL’s Everton FC. Back in Europe after a less than fruitful early-career stint in Germany and six months before the shot heard ’round the world, Landon Donovan was on his way back. Donovan’s successful winter in Liverpool and his heroics in the World Cup set the stage and expectations for the next four years into high gear. And then, halfway through, burnout.
Fast forward to May 21st, 2014. Landon Donovan has returned to soccer, has returned to the US Men’s National Team and has re-emerged triumphant on the pitch. Grantland’s Noah Davis offers a prospectus on the future of American soccer, a prospectus that includes Landon Donovan even if only as a bridge from America’s mediocre football past to its seemingly bright future.
Bridges, oh how they burn.
On May 22nd, 2014, Jurgen Klinsmann’s 2014 World Cup roster is announced, and one name is notably missing. In an instant, the man who has scored more World Cup goals than Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, and Robin van Persie combined, more international goals than any US player in history, and more MLS goals than any other player in the league’s relatively young history is left to watch the World Cup at home like the rest of us.
I won’t pretend that I follow US Soccer with any more than passing glances at box scores and occasional forays into soccer blog rabbit holes. I love watching World Cup soccer, though, and for all of my adult life that has meant watching Landon Donovan. I have to admit, I took the news of Donovan’s exclusion from the roster like a punch in the stomach. I think we all did. The idea, the opportunity for one last hurrah; a farewell, of sorts, for Donovan on football’s biggest stage was just too good to ignore.
Donovan deserves his farewell, as much as anyone deserves such a thing, and I still believe he earned a place on this roster. But as much as Donovan deserves our respect and adoration, so too does Klinsmann deserve the right to build his team his way. I don’t have to agree with every Klinsmann decision to love what he’s doing and how he’s shaping the future of American soccer. This one stings, but I know this decision can’t take away what Landon has given us and I’m excited about what is still yet to come.
- A close friend graduating from Durham University, his dad a lifelong Everton fan, and serendipitous timing.↩