Donovan’s retirement signals end of an era for U.S. soccer

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By Dan Escalona

In the 41st minute of a meaningless international friendly between Ecuador and the United States men’s national team, the end of an era occurred.

At that moment, Landon Donovan walked off the pitch for his final career appearance in the United States soccer uniform. Though it may not have been the ideal finale many U.S. soccer fans would have hoped for, it is nonetheless the inevitable endpoint to a ground-breaking career.

By most accounts, Donovan may well be considered the greatest American male player in the U.S. soccer history. His stats simply speak for themselves. He has the most appearances, the most goals and the most assists in USMNT history. Not to mention, he is the all-time leading scorer in the MLS. 

Since making his debut for the senior US squad in 2000, Donovan has been the preeminent face of U.S. soccer. He led the U.S. in three consecutive World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010) and has scored more than any other American in the World Cup.

His most famous moments on the national team came in 2010 during the World Cup in South Africa. Needing just a goal against Algeria in order to advance to the knockout stage, he came through with possibly the most shocking and memorable goal in U.S. soccer history.

It was a goal that launched hundreds of YouTube fan celebration videos.

Now, looking through the tremendous accomplishments of Donovan’s career, it’s strange to wonder how such a great career could end so unceremoniously. That would necessitate discussing the issues Donovan has had over the last two years, particularly with USMNT head coach Jurgen Kilnsmann.

Most of these issues began when Donovan took a soccer “hiatus” in the fall of 2013, much to the displeasure of Klinsmann. From that time, the relationship between both has been stressed. That is also why he may or may not have been left off the U.S. World Cup roster in Brazil. One can only speculate.

At this point, fans can only argue back and forth if Donovan could have helped the U.S. against Belgium last summer. One thing most U.S. fans can agree on, though, is that Donovan making his final appearance for the U.S. on the World Cup stage would have been the most ideal way to go out given his legendary career. 

But, alas, that is not the way it worked out and instead he faded into the record books on a drab Friday night in Connecticut. 

Despite how undramatically his career on the national team concluded and his fractured relationship with Klinsmann, Donovan should ultimately be lauded for his contributions to U.S. soccer and in the growth of the sport overall. When Donovan’s tenure on the national team began 14 years ago, the U.S. was of little importance in the world soccer. Now, more than a decade later, the USMNT is gradually ascending to the upper echelon in international soccer.

Donovan cannot unilaterally be credited with this, but as the face of U.S. soccer, he clearly paved the road for the USMNT in becoming a much more competitive force on the global stage. 

The rise of the new generation of American soccer talent in some ways is indebted to Donovan, too. It can easily be said that Donovan set himself up as an example of what it takes for a young player to succeed on the US national team. 

The emergence of young players from Julian Green to Graham Zusi to Fabian Johnson can all in someway be owed back to the contributions Landon Donovan has made over a decade.

As the poster boy of U.S. soccer for 14 years, it would not be a stretch to claim that Donovan has played a major role in the increasing popularity of soccer in the U.S. A generation of kids have grown up playing the sport and watching the national team. These kids are now the same young people attending U.S. World Cup watch parties in droves and becoming consumers of the sport.

For all of this, Donovan deserves to be praised for all the positive changes to U.S. soccer that have occurred in a record-breaking tenure for the U.S. men’s national team. 

Dan is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @danescalona77.