Playing in his 14th straight MLS All-Star Game, Donovan scored the winning goal by finishing off a Diego Valeri pass and beating German World Cup hero Manuel Neuer in the 71st minute. A minute later he walked off to a well-earned ovation, commanding the respect of the Timbers fans more accustomed to booing the LA Galaxy midfielder's every move.
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It's been a tough few months for Donovan. But after a summer that saw him watch a World Cup from afar for the first time in 16 years, a World Cup where his U.S. teammates lost to Germany, Donovan scored on Neuer to help the MLS All-Stars beat the club team that cast him aside. It had to feel extremely gratifying, even if it was only just a glorified friendly.
This All-Star week has felt like a very different one for Donovan, who has perennially been one of the most high-profile players at the event. That wasn’t the case this week, with Thierry Henry and the members of the U.S. World Cup team being showcased and Donovan playing a secondary role in the buildup.
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"(The media) used to talk to two or three of us, and now you want to talk to everybody, and that means you're building stars in the league, you're building profiles," Donovan said. "Obviously all the guys that were in Brazil have massively grown their images and profiles, so that's a good thing.
"And for me, I'm happy to do less, believe me."
Even Donovan’s entrance was far different than what we had grown accustomed to for the three-time World Cup star. Henry was in the spotlight, leaving the field in what could very well have been his final MLS All-Star Game appearance. The crowd cheered the French legend on as he left, but quickly changed their tune when Donovan came on.
Donovan entered the match unceremoniously, drawing jeers from the Timbers fans in attendance. He showed his touch and quickness and the good form he has been carrying over for the surging Galaxy. Donovan looked every bit like a player who could have helped the U.S. national team at this summer’s World Cup, and when he finished his chance past Neuer, it was only natural for some U.S. fans to wonder if he might have been able to do that against Neuer in Brazil.
We will never know what might have happened, but what we were reminded of on Wednesday night is that the 32-year-old Donovan is still a special talent capable of standing out, even on a field of stars.
Donovan wasn’t expected to even play much of a role on Wednesday night, not with the Galaxy playing a game on Friday night. That tight schedule led to Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez pulling out of the match. Donovan came to Portland anyway, and MLS All-Star coach Caleb Porter found a way to give him a role and Donovan made the most of that cameo.
“He deserves to be in the All-Star Game. he’s another player that’s done a lot for the sport in this country, and this league and with the national team,” Porter said of Donovan. “We knew he couldn’t play a lot of minutes, but we knew he could play 20 minutes or 25, so we planned all along to bring him in for Henry and swap him out for Dwyer, so it was nice for him to get a goal.”
The night ended with Donovan lifting a Man of the Match award for his efforts, and while the honor and victory against Bayern Munich isn’t likely to erase the pain of missing out on the 2014 World Cup, it did remind MLS and U.S. national team fans the player Donovan can still be.
"When you're playing well, and things are going well, you want to keep playing," Donovan said. "Right now I'm really enjoying myself. I feel relaxed and comfortable, and I want to keep enjoying myself."