116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Know Your Yanks: Landon Donovan

Some have called him the Golden Boy, others a primadonna. For many, he is the savior of American soccer. Just don't bring up his name in San Jose or Mexico City. Landon Donovan, hero of 2002, looks to shine once again this year.

Landon Donovan hit the scene in a big way in 1999, when he won the Golden Ball as the best player in the Under-17 World Championships. Pegged for greatness, he signed a contract with German side Bayer Leverkusen, and began his quest to become the American Zidane. All did not go according to plan, however, as he could not break into the Bayer first team. His unhappiness with playing time, as well as homesickness for the California sun, precipitated a lengthy public campaign for his freedom from the hostile Germans. Leverkusen eventually relented, sending him on loan to MLS, where he caught on with the San Jose Earthquakes.
Upon his return to the States, Donovan made his first appearance in a USA uniform in late 2000, and his appearances with the Nats increased throughout 2001; he was a regular starter by year's end. At the same time, he was dominating in MLS, leading the 'Quakes to the 2001 MLS Cup title. 2002 was Donovan's coming out party, however, as he was a key component in the U.S.' shocking run to the quarterfinals of the World Cup. His attacking exploits with the Americans were outstanding, leading FIFA in 2006 to retroactively name him Young Player of the 2002 World Cup.
Donovan had a career year in 2003, being named to the MLS Best XI, leading San Jose to another MLS Cup and being named MLS Cup MVP. For his efforts, he was named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year. Bayer Leverkusen, having taken notice of his skills, decided it was time to end his loan period, and in late 2004 he returned to Germany, taking with him a second consecutive U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year award. Back with Leverkusen, Donovan struggled, playing infrequently, and scoring no goals. When he stated his desire to return to MLS, Bayer obliged, selling his rights to the league, where the Los Angeles Galaxy (San Jose's hated rival) traded for his allocation rights. With the Galaxy in 2005, Donovan returned to his old self, leading Los Angeles to the 2005 MLS Cup title, and becoming MLS' all-time leading playoff scorer, with 14 goals. After the season, in honor of the league's 10th anniversary, he was named to the league's All Time Best XI, and he became the U.S. Men's all-time assist leader in 2006, at only age 24.
Donovan has been a controversial figure in the world of American soccer. While no one can deny his prodigious talent, he has been known to coast in games of lesser importance, while dominating the big matches. His two exits from Germany have also been roundly criticized in certain circles, as some perceive him to have quit during hard times. In San Jose, he has been vilified, mostly for becoming a success with the rival Galaxy (now that the team has moved to Houston, some even blame his exit for the death of the franchise). He has also become the lightning rod for hatred of the U.S. team in Mexico, where he certainly hasn't helped matters by saying that Mexican players "suck" after the U.S. beat them in World Cup qualifying this past year. Some have even criticized Donovan for the perceived role of his fiancee in his career decisions. Donovan, to his credit, has tried to stay above the fray, often using humorous quotes of self-deprecation to diffuse his critics.
Donovan is the most skilled attacking player in U.S. history. He has a mix of speed, ball control, shooting, passing and creativity that is unrivaled by anyone on the U.S. team. His skill level allows him to play virtually anywhere in attack, although he is most often utilized in a central playmaking role, either in midfield behind two forwards or as a center forward behind one striker. He may also see time on the right side of midfield. He has a strong awareness of the game, enabling him to compile assists, but also to join the attack and score many goals. He does tend to fade out of less significant matches, but plays very well in big games. His leadership and influence within the U.S. team is growing, and he occasionally fills in as U.S. captain.

Career Highlights:

1999: Receives Golden Ball (Best Player) at FIFA Under-17 World Cup. Signs professional contract with Bayer Leverkusen (Germany, 1. Bundesliga).

2000: Makes U.S. Men's National Team debut.

2001: Joins the San Jose Earthquakes (USA, Major League Soccer) on loan from Bayer. Wins MLS Cup with San Jose.

2002: Wins Gold Cup with USA. Named to Gold Cup Best XI. Advances to quaterfinals of World Cup with USA, before being eliminated by Germany.

2003: Wins MLS Cup with San Jose. Named MLS Cup MVP. Named to MLS Best XI. Named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year.

2004: Named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year for second consecutive season. Recalled from loan to Bayer Leverkusen.

2005: Joins the Los Angeles Galaxy (USA, Major League Soccer) on a transfer for Bayer (fee undisclosed). Wins MLS Cup with Los Angeles. Named to MLS All Time Best XI. Wins Gold Cup with USA. Named to Gold Cup Bext XI.

2006: Becomes U.S. Men's National Team all-time assist leader.


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