Landon Donovan: The New Captain America
Landon Donovan has arguably been the best player in the United States since the 2002 World Cup. It has long been assumed that the title “Captain America” would be bestowed upon him.
Most people thought it would have happened after Claudio Reyna’s international retirement after the 2006 World Cup. Instead, due in part to Donovan’s perceived immaturity throughout the ’06 campaign and his struggles on and off the pitch after the team’s exit from Germany, the honor was given to Carlos Bocanegra.
Bocanegra will be 35 when the World Cup next convenes in Brazil in 2014, all but assuring that a new captain will be named sometime in the next several years.
It’s time for it to be Landon Donovan.
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In the last year, the man given the somewhat affectionate and somewhat slighting nickname “Landycakes” has grown up in a major way.
The transformation really began after a well-publicized dispute between Donovan and English superstar David Beckham. Donovan said some unflattering things to the press regarding Beckham’s role on the team, especially dealing with his absences from the club.
The situation was resolved in Bruce Arena’s office in the Home Depot Center, and from there forward, Donovan began on a path that led him to some truly powerful remarks at the 2010 ESPYs. More on that later.
Next on the timeline is Donovan’s three month loan to the Premier League’s Everton. Donovan came to the Merseyside outfit expected to do very little.
Donovan seemed to blossom as a player before the eyes of Evertonians and Americans alike. Donovan, after less than a week’s time in England, started against Arsenal, one of the most historic clubs on the planet, not to mention a club able to field a strong side annually.
Donovan continued a strong run of form with the Toffees, appearing 13 times, 10 of those in the Premier League. He tallied twice with the Merseysiders while setting up several goals from set pieces and pin-point passing.
Donovan and the Everton fans almost created a symbiotic relationship—Donovan fed off the love the crowd gave him and the fans fed off of the spark Donovan put into the squad. But Donovan got the better of the deal. He seemed to simply grow as a person in those moments, finally being able to capture just why he was playing the beautiful game.
Everton very much wanted to extend Donovan’s stay, but there was simply no way to make a deal work, financially speaking. Donovan made his way back to Los Angeles in time to begin the season with the Galaxy as its captain.
One wouldn’t blame Donovan had he pouted about leaving Everton. Had he Facebooked about how much he wanted to stay, or used repeated Tweets to put pressure on the Galaxy, many observers may have thought it justified. After all, if the best American player can hack it in arguably the best league in the world, shouldn't he have the chance to continue to shine?
But Donovan simply did what he had promised from the outset. And then he proceeded to truly lead his Galaxy. He started in incredible form, orchestrating his club to a long unbeaten streak from the outset of the 2010 MLS season. It’s not a big stretch of the imagination to assume that Donovan's guidance and great ball service had something to do with Edson Buddle’s meteoric rise leading up to the 2010 World Cup.
In South Africa, Donovan finished his maturation. He played well in the draw against England, a game as a whole that will be remembered by new and old U.S. fans for a long time.
Then the match against Slovenia began, and it looked like everything that could go wrong, had. At halftime, the U.S. was down by two goals.
Then just minutes after the intermission ended, Donovan did an incredible impression of Atlas, putting the weight of the US Soccer world on his shoulders. The goal he scored to start the second half will be looked upon as a watershed moment (one of several in South Africa) for the game in America.
When he roofed the ball into the Slovenian net, not only did he ignite his squad, he poured a good deal of gasoline onto the soccer fire of a country of 300 million. It wasn’t lit just yet, though.
Donovan threw the lighter down onto the metaphoric fire against Algeria. Nothing can be written to accurately encapsulate that moment. Go on YouTube and watch it, then watch the fan reaction videos.
Donovan’s press junket across the United States in the wake of the United States' World Cup run did plenty to prove that he had become a true leader for the Yanks. Sure, Bocanegra is the current captain and led the side officially, but it was Donovan that quickly became the heartbeat of the squad.
And finally, at the ESPY awards, Donovan proved that he deserves to be the next Captain America. After a half dozen or so players all went on stage to accept the award, and after Carlos Bocanegra’s acceptance speech, Donovan stepped to the microphone.
Donovan didn’t thank anybody in the United States Soccer Federation. He didn’t thank anybody for getting the team to where they wound up in the World Cup.
He said this…
“The comment I’ve received more than any other is, ‘Thanks for inspiring us, thanks for inspiring our country.’ I believe it takes two to tango and really want to say on behalf of us, thank you for allowing us to inspire you guys, ‘cuz you guys put everything else aside and let us inspire you, so thank you so much.”
That’s class. And as the old saying goes, form is temporary, class is permanent.
Landycakes is dead. The Landon Donovan everybody thought they knew is dead. Long live Captain America.SOURCEI still love Boca, he will forever be my Captain America