Landon Donovan: The Ups and Downs of the American Who Changed Soccer Forever

Colby NewquistContributor IDecember 20, 2010

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 23:  Landon Donovan of the United States celebrates with teammate Edson Buddle after scoring the winning goal that sends the USA through to the second round during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between USA and Algeria at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium on June 23, 2010 in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Watching the MLS nowadays, one is stuck wondering whether he or she is watching a men's Friday night soccer league or an actual professional league.

The league and media spends so much time investing in older, fading European stars that the rare, raw American talents often take a back seat.

Hidden behind Champions League medals, Premier League and FA Cup doubles, FIFA Player of the Year Nominations, and much more lie a host of American players waiting for a chance to make American soccer popular and finally be voted as Prom Queen over their more "pretty" and "popular" peers—football, baseball, basketball, etc.

Realistically, at the rate we are moving, this romantic notion will remain stuck in time.

American citizens far and wide are packing the stadiums for Thierry Henry and David Beckham, not Chris Albright and Quincy Amarikwa (I had to Google American soccer players in the MLS—no joke).

Fostering European "wash-ups," no offense Mr. Henry or Mr. Beckham, is only going to take popularity so far.

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Americans are crying out for a Rocky Balboa. An underdog in the world game. A stubborn rock who simply does not comprehend the term "fail."

America, if it has not realized it, needs to look no more. His name brought the chants "USA, USA" into England soccer coliseums. He carried America on his back in South Africa. And he made his career here, in the red, white, and blue streets of America.

His name—Landon Donovan.

His story makes him the Hollywood star American fans adore.

Unknown at the age of 16, he claimed the Golden Ball award in the under-19 World Championship. He signed a contract in Germany, where he was then sent out on-loan to the San Jose Earthquakes and led them to the MLS Championship.

His climatic climb reached its height in 2002, when he officially cemented his name in the hearts of American soccer lovers. He scored two goals to propel the USA to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1930.

However, like many cinematic characters, Donovan faced a fall from grace and was exiled from Bayern Leverkusen twice and Bayern Muinch once after failing to make any impression at all in Europe.

Easily the lowest point in his career, Donovan was down and out and looked to be another lost kid in the grand scheme of the game.

However, at the ripe age of 28, he joined Everton on-loan and all his trials and tribulations were soon a distant memory. In 10 games, he scored twice and assisted three times.

He then carried the US National Team on his back in the 2010 World Cup. Donovan scored three goals in four games, including the late winner against Algeria that gave the USA its first win in eight years, and set them on top of the group table.

The rest, as they say, is history.

His pace, composure in front of goal, unmatched work rate and selfless play has put Donovan in a class that no soccer player in America can match.

When his career comes to a close, commentators, coaches, players, fans and anyone associated with soccer will always agree that Donovan was the first of his kind.

He is the first player to give Americans someone to claim their allegiance to, and claim it proudly.

No matter who comes to this country and what accolades they hold, they will always be following in the footsteps of Landon Donovan.