It will not do to elaborate on Landon Donovan. As a soccer player, I mean. Words will simply cloud the simplicity and the beauty of his talent.
A minimum of words, then. Watch the man at play and rejoice. The ease of movement, the purposeful lightness of everything he does, from the springy running to the sensuous caressing of the ball.
No other American player has those qualities. Donovan was, still is, a Natural. A one-off from nowhere. No soccer background. A slight 6-year-old kid who scored seven goals in the first game he ever played. That sounds too good to be true, a Hollywood fiction.
But it also sounds just right. The talent was there right from the start. It had to be. Raw? Hard to apply that word to Donovan. If ever there was a case for a “soccer gene,” then Donovan would be Exhibit No 1.
It all came naturally to Donovan. Easily? I don’t know -- but I suspect yes -- at least compared with the way other kids, the other American kids, fared. Did Donovan ever do anything that looked clumsy or awkward on a soccer field? Doubtful.
Donovan, at age 17, was already a thoughtful boy. Serious about things, yes. Serious -- but not solemn. He lacked the boyish charm, the quick smile, of his teammates on the U-17 national team.
Shyness, maybe. But there was nothing shy about his soccer at that age. It was already bristling with mature movement, skillful touches and confidence, a marvel to enjoy, fun to watch.
There were plenty of goals, loads of assists -- stats (a word I had sworn not to use) to prove his worth. What Donovan did was not only beautiful to see, it was also winning soccer.
Just three months back, his reign as the crown jewel of the U.S. national team was ended by a snub from the supposedly knowledgeable Jurgen Klinsmann. Donovan came out of that disappointment with dignity. You would expect that. Why would a personality on the field who never seemed to be in trouble, who never showed signs of haste or confusion, a player who played soccer with a smooth brilliance never attained by any other American player before or since -- why would a superior player like that react noisily to a coach’s pettiness?
We will get, I should imagine, a Landon Donovan farewell game. He deserves at least that. For now, we have a few more months of Donovan. He is still a sight to see, a rare soccer feast. He is a reminder: That soccer skill can spring up anywhere, that natural talent is a part of it, that missing out on college soccer does not hinder but instead helps a young player’s progress.
Too many words already. So just this: Landon Donovan will be missed. For all those wonderful moments in a sport that -- let’s face it -- can at times be a bit of a bore. But not when Donovan is on the field. He is one of the few players born to show us the mysteries and the hidden beauties of soccer.