As the US Men’s soccer team gets ready for a pair of World Cup qualifiers this week, I am once again left to wonder:
Is Landon Donovan really the best soccer player the USA can produce?
First, let's look at the awards and recognition he has received:
- FIFA U-17 World Championship Golden Ball: 1999
- MLS All-Star MVP: 2001
- MLS Best XI: 2003
- MLS Cup MVP: 2003
- U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year: 2003, 2004
- CONCACAF Gold Cup Best XI: 2002, 2003, 2005
- MLS All-Time Best XI
- Honda Player of the Year: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008
- Los Angeles Galaxy Golden Boot: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
- MLS Golden Boot: 2008
- United States Men's National Team All-time Goalscorer (37 Goals in 106 games)
- United States Men's National Team All time Assists Leader (33 Assists in 106 games)
Impressive indeed, but can we really count anything accomplished in the MLS (Mostly Listless Soccer)? I think not.
Can we really count anything done in CONCACAF Cups against alleged professional teams like Cuba, Guatelmala, Honduras, etc? I think not.
Can we really count anything done in World Cup qualifiers against the same sorry group of nations, with Mexico being a possible exception? I think not.
Meaningless Friendlies? Once again, I think not.
Of his 37 career National team goals, 19 have come against Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Barbados, El Salvador, and Jamaica. Another 11 goals have come in friendly matches.
So 30 of his 37 career goals have come in matches when the result was not in question or the result didn't matter.
So how, then, can we judge how great of a soccer player Landon Donovan really is? In my opinion, we must look at World Cup games, when he is playing against world-class players in high-pressure situations.
So let's look at his performance there.
Donovan has played in a total of 8 World Cup games in two separate World Cups. He has a total of 2 goals and 0 assists. The goals came against Poland and Mexico, not the strongest of World Cup teams.
Against the very best competition, like Germany, Italy and Portugal: 0 goals and 0 assists.
Now, for those of you screaming at your flat panel displays "Goals and assists are not everything", I contend, when you are touted as your country's best player and you're an attacking player, not a defender, it IS everything.
The "best" player has to produce when it counts the most!
Stats aside, what is my impression of Landon Donovan?
Although he may have the best foot skills on the US team, that's not really saying much. He is capable of taking on defenders at high speed while actually keeping control of the ball (how many other US players can claim that?.
However, such forays into high-level soccer always end the same way for Donovan. Ultimately he is run off the ball by a professional defender and ends up on the ground appealing to the referees for a foul.
His next best attribute is probably handling the ball from long crosses or down-field passes. Whether it's getting his head on the ball, using his chest, or softly receiving the ball at his feet, he does a good job gaining and retaining possession.
His passing skills I believe are just adequate. I'm rarely wowed by a perfect through ball into space for someone to run onto. He'll make a lot of square passes and conservative passes. He just seems a lot more interested in having the ball than giving it up.
So, am I here to disparage Landon Donovan? Despite what you've just read, not really. I am, however, saying that the US really doesn't have any World-Class players yet. As a youth coach and a follower of US soccer for the last 25 years, I thought it would have happened by now.
So my real point is: If Landon Donovan is truly our best, then despite all of the USSF's best efforts, we are no closer to being a true World Cup contender than we were 10 years ago.