Landon Donovan: More than a scorer

[UNDER THE MICROSCOPE] His dramatic run, pass and shot in stoppage time Wednesday against Algeria are already etched into the minds of millions of Americans, yet he and his teammates suffered through an agonizing hour and a half before getting their reward. A game is sometimes described as being of two halves, and occasionally the same can be said about players. So it was for Landon Donovan against Algeria.

(AUDIO Listen to Andres Cantor's call of Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria on Futbol de Primera.)

He and right back Steve Cherundolo took on much of the attacking impetus in the first half, with Donovan often clearing space on the flank for Cherundolo to serve up crosses and occasionally get deeper into the attacking third. By sliding inside Donovan also gave options and passing lanes for Michael Bradley to probe the middle as the Americans used well-timed runs and passes to overcome the numerical superiority of Algeria’s five-man midfield and get at its three-man back line.

In the second half, both Clint Dempsey and substitute Benny Feilhaber – though rarely at the same time – drifted into that area, so Donovan worked more as a decoy and a provider of early balls. By tucking in but not always going far upfield, the lane right up the touchline remained open for Cherundolo. There also were spaces for Feilhaber and Dempsey to link up with Jozy Altidore, who ranged to both flanks during the 90 minutes yet spent more time on the right.

Throughout the match, Donovan’s delivery on set plays -- hit with good pace and swerve -- tested the Algerian defenders and keeper Rais Bohli, who battled for balls in the air so aggressively rarely did the Americans get a clean crack at them.

Jay DeMerit got his head to a ball driven into a cluster of players to head wide of the post; on a free kick, Michael Bradley’s glancing header from the edge of the penalty area missed the frame. Bohli punched out another threatening corner at the edge of the goal area, which was just one of many outstanding plays by the Algerian keeper that kept the game scoreless.

Donovan and Bradley were the primary targets for Howard’s goal kicks; with Altidore occupying defenders further upfield, the U.S. turned those kicks into good opportunities though none produced a goal. Deployed on the right, Donovan drew a vital defensive responsibility to contain the fleet and skilled Nadir Belhadj, whose own forays forward caused a few problems for the Americans and forced Donovan to marshal his energy and endurance.

In the 17th minute Donovan knifed inside and drew enough attention that no Algerian pressured Cherundolo as he lifted a ball to the far post that Herculez Gomez volleyed over the crossbar. A minute later, Donovan collected a long goal kick, played it inside to Altidore, and then looped inside him to take the return pass, push forward on the dribble, and shoot over the bar from about 25 yards out with Gomez darting clear on the right.

After an apparent goal by Dempsey was disallowed for offside, Donovan got another look at goal on a Dempsey header that caromed off a defender, but as Gomez went for the same ball he shanked a left-footed volley attempt.

Late in the first half, two moves within a minute triggered by Donovan nearly resulted in a goal. First he slipped a ball inside to Dempsey surging through the penalty area, and the keeper dove to block Dempsey’s toe-poke. A minute later Donovan ran onto a square ball near the penalty area and played it inside to Bradley at the penalty arc. When Bradley cut it past a defender to him on the right, Donovan took it to goal.

The keeper lunged and got a glove on the ball, it popped up in the air and as Donovan swung his leg to volley it, Altidore got there first and blasted over from close range.

A free kick taken quickly – and cleverly -- by Donovan in the 44th minute released Jonathan Bornstein on the left flank; Bornstein cut inside to make space for a shot he scuffed terribly wide.

Feilhaber started the second half on the left side and for a time the U.S. attacked that flank, with Donovan and Dempsey trading places in the middle and the right channel. They occasionally floated all the way out to the touchline to chase down balls from Cherundolo or carve out space for his crosses.

Combination play and interchanging of positions from Donovan, Dempsey, Feilhaber, Cherundolo and Bradley created most of the U.S. chances, with Altidore occasionally joining in. Altidore got free on the right to play the ball that Dempsey controlled and tried to curl inside the post. Instead, it hit the upright, and though Dempsey got to the rebound he fired well wide from a bad angle.

Another great move down the right between Cherundolo and Donovan released Feilhaber, who reached the byline to cut back a ball cleared by Algeria. Next time Dempsey got into space to collect a ball from Cherundolo, but Algeria blocked his cross. Midway through the second half, Donovan raced upfield with a monster throw from Howard but couldn’t turn the possession into a scoring chance.

As the minutes ebbed away and the misses mounted, the Americans kept plugging away despite an annoying recurrence of traffic problems. In the 78th minute Donovan and Dempsey got tangled up in the penalty area and lost the ball as he labored to regain command of the right flank. In the final minute of regular time, he worked free and chipped a perfect cross to DaMarcus Beasley on the left side of the box, but the play died when Beasley’s chest trap was adjudged to be a handball.

Then Donovan conjured up and finished off the 11 seconds of magic American fans will forever treasure. Goalkeeper Tim Howard zipped another 50-yard arrow upfield into his path, he scurried through the right channel with three teammates in support, he played the ball out wide to Altidore and drove for the goalmouth. When Bohli’s block at Dempsey’s feet knocked the ball a yard outside the goal area, Donovan pounced to drive it low into the nearest open space, inside the left post.

You know the rest.

8 comments about "Landon Donovan: More than a scorer".
  1. karl ortmertl, June 26, 2010 at 9:27 a.m.

    There's no one on the planet that I would rather have had directing that last scoring play than Donovan - and that's the truth. Its ironic that it happened on a counter. It looked like Algeria was satisfied to just screw up the US's chances until then. The US is hated around the world and that would have been a source of pride for the Algerians. Its something the US team has to deal with. It's ironic because the US soccer team is the one of the only areas that the US actually tries to reach out and be part of the international community.

  2. Frank Cebul, June 26, 2010 at 9:58 a.m.

    Ridge--Thanks for encapsulating the varied complex efforts Team USA used to crack the Algerian defense. I did not see everything that I was looking at and thus missed the soccer intelligence and creative teamwork employed by the US. Now I have much more appreciation for what Donovan brings to this team and a much higher confidence in the strength and resilience of the US team. Insightful article--good work.

  3. Steven SIegel, June 26, 2010 at 10:01 a.m.

    I disagree with your assessment of Algeria or whatever feelings you are projecting onto the players.

    Algeria played all matches with great skill and poise. They had a chance to advance and played no differently in this game than the others. I highly doubt they were looking to be spoilers - they were playing soccer to optimize their own chances of advancing. This meant playing smart and going forward as warranted. If they had scored off the early Demerit miscue the result would have been quite different. Of course, they could not advance without help from Slovenia.

    No doubt all teams would rather go out with a tie than a loss, but I believe they played to win as evidenced by the openness of the latter stages of the game.

  4. Steven SIegel, June 26, 2010 at 10:03 a.m.

    My last comment was directed at karl, who is feeling a but paranoid. Of course, even paranoids have enemies.

  5. karl ortmertl, June 26, 2010 at 10:35 a.m.

    Steven - if you don't think there's severe anti-American sentiment around the world (we won't go into whether or not its justified), then you're just naive. Looking at reality isn't paranoia, its just looking at reality.

  6. Kevin Dilley, June 26, 2010 at 11:06 a.m.

    Ridge - I seek out your writing, just as Howard seeks out Donovan with a 50-yard zinger. Great article that really should be a must read for all anti-soccer fans who think there isn't enough scoring. The game is played between the six-yard boxes. And it's exciting as you so aptly show in a great piece of analysis.
    As for the anti-American sentiment. Sure it exists, but so does pro-American sentiment. I watched the game at an Appleby's in Mexico. Sitting next to me was a Mexican named Raul, wearing a Donovan U.S. jersey. He cheered for the U.S. as loudly as I did and we ended up hugging and high-fiving at the end. So, it goes both ways. Of course it would have been a source of pride for Algeria to beat U.S., but probably not out of hatred (though for some I'm sure it was.) I'd suggest that national pride is the feeling felt by most.

  7. Steven SIegel, June 26, 2010 at 2:06 p.m.

    karl, the question is not about anti-American sentiment around the world, it is a question of what happened on the pitch. Algeria was playing wide open at the end, very much trying to score the winner, and I'm sorry if you didn't notice.

    The truth is that all teams, if they can't advance, would love to play spoiler against Germany, Brazil, whomever. Ascribing that to anti-Americanism is adding on your baggage.

    However, the Algeria match was not the case. Algeria had a chance to advance and they played an honorable game and came quite close to winning, even near the very end.

    You're right, this is not the forum to talk about the problems of the world, but I am questioning your interpretation of how the Algerians played.

  8. Steven SIegel, June 26, 2010 at 2:12 p.m.

    By the way, I highly encourage everyone to listen to the AUDIO link above to the Andres Cantor "goooooool" It is amazing and befits the great goal Donovan scored.

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