Why Landon Donovan Deserved More

As Landon Donovan steps away from the United States Men's National Team, one question remains: Did he deserve more?
by Herb Scribner   |   Monday, October 13, 2014

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

On Friday night, the United States Men’s National Team and its fans said goodbye to the best American to ever play the game in Landon Donovan. In front of a miniscule 35,000 fans in East Hartford, Connecticut, Donovan helped the United States to a 1-1 draw with the talented and highly capable Ecuador, putting a final stamp on what has been nothing but a successful international career.

Once Donovan left the field towards the end of the first half, a sense of change rolled over the United States. A potential future No. 9 for the US, Bobby Wood, took the field to replace Donovan, in what was a symbolic switch of the old guard to the new era. Wood’s performance through the game wasn’t anything special — he even missed an exceptionally close shot in the dying minutes, one that could have given the Americans a victory — but it did show that USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann wanted the post-Donovan sooner rather than later.

Some might say America’s new era of soccer began with the run-up to the 2014 World Cup, when an inexperienced squad took the field down in Brazil. Even though Donovan was left off that roster, his presence was still felt. Questions and concerns were raised and aimed at Klinsmann about his decision to leave Donovan off. And as Donovan continued to break records in MLS — he’s now the all-time leader in goals and assists in the league — critics and pundits alike still asked whether Donovan deserved to be in the World Cup, and if he would get another shot in the USA kit.

But after Friday’s game, Donovan is done with his international career and the new era can truly begin. It seems everyone feels that way. But it’s hard not to look back at Donovan’s time on the pitch and think that the LA Galaxy star deserved more than he got, especially at the twilight of his career.

This is something you could see Friday night. The presentation ESPN gave was laughable. The best American to ever play the game got a quick tribute video at the beginning of the broadcast, an gawdy plaque made up of previous USA jerseys, a special online-only camera aimed on him, a quick halftime interview and a couple of handshakes. In a lot ways, the game was treated as any other. Quick, simple and onto gridiron football.

Donovan deserved more than that. He’s been successful in nearly every endeavor he’s taken on (save for a sub-par showing in Germany earlier in his career). He’s broken countless records, he’s played the most amount of minutes by any American for the national team. He’s recognizable by common sports fans in the United States and across the world. He’s the best to have ever played the game for the red, white and blue.

Friday was a historic night for those watching the game. The single player who has dominated America’s soccer experience for the past 15 or so years will no longer wear his country’s shirt. It was the end of an era. It was a moment we may never get again in our lifetimes. There may never been another Landon Donovan. US Soccer may improve over time, but a player of Donovan’s caliber hasn’t arrived yet, and they may never come.

There’s a sense of incompletion when you look at Donovan’s career. He spent the bulk of his playing time stateside, breaking records in MLS with an occasional loan spell overseas. And because he spent so much time in the states, it’s impossible to tell what Donovan’s full potential would have been. Yes, being in MLS helped Donovan raise the game in America and bring MLS to new heights. But for Donovan as a player and competitor, it surely limited him from gaining the overseas experience and exposure that may have improved his game, and the USMNT’s success.

And though Donovan got a farewell match — he played roughly 40 minutes in a small and irrelevant venue against an opponent with little to no connection to his career — he never really got the sendoff he deserved. Donovan deserved one last go in the World Cup. He should have been brought to Brazil to give the USA an extra punch, which it surely needed when Jozy Altidore went down and Clint Dempsey played out of position, spelling doom for the United States.

Donovan will forever be remembered for the success he brought to the United States. He’s been America’s hero, the United States’ savior and the country’s record breaker. What he did during the last decade is something that no American may ever do again.

But the conclusion to his international career doesn’t fit the narrative. He deserved more than a throwaway and forgettable farewell match. Donovan deserved a final moment on the world stage and storybook end to his career. Maybe it’s a testimonial match against Mexico. Or maybe it’s a game filled with past and present USA players that Donovan has played with over the years. Finishing his career with a 1-1 draw in a lackluster Rentschler Field in front of 35,000 — no matter how loyal and enthusiastic the crowd was — isn’t a good ending.

When looking back at Donovan’s career, it’s easy to celebrate all the positives he brought, and many will continue to do that for generations. Fans of today will pass on their stories of Donovan to the kids of tomorrow. Donovan will remain something for the next generation or two to discuss, commend and appreciate.

The end of his international career, though, is still marred. Being left off the USA’s World Cup squad, and an uninspiring final game in a USMNT jersey, will only make fans wonder if maybe Donovan warranted more from the current USMNT staff, US Soccer and from his overall career.

And, in truth, the best American soccer player deserved more.

NEXT UP: October 14 — Friendly: United States vs. Honduras, FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida. 8 p.m. EST, ESPN, WatchESPN, UniMas.


UMass Amherst
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FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.