Landon Donovan has long been considered the most talented American player. His combination of speed, skill, and experience make him a lethal attacker who, at just 27, is already the all-time leading scorer for the United States team.
In 2008, he had his best individual year as a pro. Unfortunately, his performance was the only bright light in an otherwise gloomy year in Southern California. Amid the hoopla surrounding David Beckham and the hiring (and subsequent resignation) of manager Ruud Gullit, the Galaxy missed the Major League playoffs for the third season in a row in 2008. Donovan, however, had the most productive season of his career, notching 20 goals and winning the MLS Golden Boot.
Bayern or Bust
The off-season saw Donovan make a third attempt in Europe. He began the new year on loan with Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, and at first he didn't look out of place as he scored in several friendlies. But he wasn’t as effective when the games mattered, and Bayern chose to add Ivica Olic to their forward corps of Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni. Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge hinted that club management believed Donovan, who turned 27 in March, was too old to be the young attacking option backing up those other players.
"We believe it's better to have a young player with prospects as a fourth striker," Rummenigge said.
Donovan played well on his return to the Galaxy, helping the squad to a ten-game unbeaten streak at the beginning of the 2009 MLS season. But it wasn't until the Confederations Cup that he showed that he may have finally come into his own as a world-class player.
Against Italy in the opening match, it was largely Donovan's pace and precise passes that put the vaunted Italian defence on its heels. His clinical finish of a penalty kick opportunity gave the Americans the lead even though they were already a man down at the time. If team-mates Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley had done better with the pair of excellent chances that Donovan setup for them, the lead might have been extended.
Instead, Italy rallied to earn a 3-1 win. Yet even in that loss, it was clear that the player running hard until the final whistle on both defence and offence, not showing signs of slowing or weariness, was Donovan. He was in South Africa to make a statement and show the world what he was capable of.
Shock Troop | Donovan led the USA superbly in
the Confederations Cup
Even in the second game, in which the US started badly and then got worse, against Brazil, Donovan's consistent effort did not falter. A position change to the wing had taken him back to his days playing midfield, and he looked dangerous to deliver either an insightful ball or take on defenders on almost every play.
In the USA’s last-gasp chance to advance versus Egypt, Donovan elevated the one part of his game that had still been lacking at the tournament, his set-piece delivery, raising the reliability and quality of the service he sent in, making nearly every chance a threatening one. Egypt were under fire, and the Americans were able to triumph by the exact margin of goals that they needed.
Yet the stunner of the tournament was undoubtedly the 2-0 victory versus Spain. Though Donovan didn't score the goals, his play helped orchestrate the triumph, as he maintained possession for the US, limiting Spain's effectiveness. His pass to Clint Dempsey for the final goal, though it took a favorable deflection, sealed up the upset for the United States.
The final against Brazil featured Donovan's classic finishing skills. Donovan's slashing runs helped create opportunities going forward, and the US team, when it had as much energy as he did in the first half, not only kept up with the Brazilians, but even took the early advantage on a goal.
Donovan added to that tally with a fantastic open-field run that featured his speed on the counterattack, a perfect pass to a breaking team-mate, and an excellent first touch to completely fool a defender before slotting coolly past Julio Cesar for the second goal.
Showing the Critics
Donovan’s critics have always harped on his accomplishments as meaningless because he has played so long in Major League Soccer. Yet if Donovan was out to prove that, despite performing in the US’s 'second-tier' league he is still one of the top players the US has ever produced, he could not have done much better than how he played at the Confederations Cup.
Donovan has said that he would like a move to Europe, and he recently revealed to Goal.com that the Confederations Cup had indeed led to some offers. However, unlike Oguchi Onyewu, who already parlayed his own impressive performance into a deal with Milan, Donovan is not available on a free transfer, and Major League Soccer will not give up their local star for cheap.
Whatever the future holds, though, there is no doubt that Donovan has taken a turn in the spotlight that has opened a few eyes. As the US continue to march to the 2010 World Cup, it does so with Donovan as the key leader.
Honda US National Team Player of the Year, 2008
MLS Best XI, 2008
MLS Golden Boot, 2008
Andrea Canales, Goal.com