[MY VIEW] If there’s anything American soccer needed badly, it's an American superstar. He has arrived and his name is, of course, Landon Donovan.
In stoppage time of the USA’s must-win clash with Algeria, Donovan sparked an attack at the halfway line, passed off to Jozy Altidore, and followed up to bury a rebound to send the USA to the second round of the World Cup.
It was Donovan’s second clutch goal at this World Cup and its replays will be shown endlessly over the next few days. His name will be known to all Americans.
While Mia Hamm, who retired six years ago, captured the imagination of American girls as no other female athlete ever had, the men’s side had never produced a true soccer hero.
Alexi Lalas attained some mainstream fame during the 1994 World Cup, but that was due more to his off-field charisma. The goateed defender could barely fill a short highlight reel.
Cobi Jones, who also played in his prime in the 1990s, made a connection to youngsters and did play exciting soccer, but his achievements pale in comparison to Donovan’s.
Neither Jones nor Lalas were near world-class, and while Claudio Reyna may have been the most accomplished American of that generation, his greatest achievements went unnoticed outside the small circle of fans who followed the careers of Americans abroad.
Of the three World Cups Reyna played, he and his team shone at just one, in 2002, when a 20-year-old Donovan started every game and played a key role in the quarterfinal run.
Donovan’s brilliance has been on display for years within our shores, as he led teams to three MLS titles. He entered this tournament, his third World Cup, as the USA’s all-time leading scorer, with 42 goals.
But Donovan came short of yielding adulation outside the soccer community and he even had his critics within it: The Eurosnobs who don’t consider a player successful unless he stars on the other side of the Atlantic.
Donovan silenced those detractors somewhat with an impressive loan stint at Everton earlier in the year. But I never believed that Donovan needed a European address to become a world-class player. And certainly he has proved that in South Africa.
He may have a had quiet performance for much of the Algeria game, but Donovan demonstrated true superstar qualities when he saved the USA’s World Cup campaign with his last-gasp effort.
And it should be noted that the high-scoring Donovan plays in midfield, where he must defend as much as attack. Yet he scores and creates at a forward’s pace. (He helped set up Michael Bradley’s game-tying goal against Slovenia and the Maurice Edu strike that was called back.)
Donovan has now scored 44 goals for the USA and they come in all the various forms. Right foot, left foot, long-range, off the breakaway, short-range poaching -- and even four from the head of his 5-foot-8 frame, most famously against Mexico at the 2002 World Cup.
Skill, soccer smarts, speed – not the brawn that our youth coaches so often look for – are the source of Donovan’s splendid game. That makes him the perfect role model for young American players.
That he’s an entertaining player and a goalscorer make him just the right player to represent the face of American soccer during a World Cup that is getting unprecedented attention in the USA.