On Thursday, Landon Donovan announced his retirement from professional soccer, meaning the leading goal scorer in MLS and U.S. Men’s soccer history is hanging up his cleats. But, these records fail to capture his importance to the American soccer world, which in many ways came of age during his time on the field. When MLS was in desperate need of marketable star power, Donovan came along and ended up playing virtually his entire career for the league. He was an integral part in bringing David Beckham to America, MLS’s biggest move to date. The league he helped grow has signed international stars Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, and David Villa, a largely unthinkable accomplishment a decade ago. It’s impossible to separate Donovan’s career from the rise of soccer in America, which is the ultimate testament to his impact on the game. Although there are more than enough moments to celebrate from Donovan’s career, here are four goals that we’ll never forget:
2002 World Cup Quarterfinals: Donovan Seals the Win vs. Mexico
It isn’t one of Donovan’s flashiest goals — Eddie Lewis’s perfect cross makes the goal possible — his pace makes it difficult for the Mexican defenders to mark him on the break. But like so many of Donovan’s U.S. goals, it’s not so much the technique as the moment.
Donovan was America’s best player on the 2002 team, which was the most successful World Cup team America has ever fielded. After the disastrous last place finish in the 1998 World Cup, the 2002 team brought American soccer back to life, and Donovan’s goal against Mexico was America’s exclamation point of the tournament.
Donovan Scores Twice in 2003 MLS Cup Victory
In one of the most exciting MLS games ever played, Donovan scored twice against the Chicago Fire en route to his second of five MLS Cups and was named Man of the Match for his efforts. Both goals were typical Donovan fashion, receiving balls in front of goal and using a clever touch to put it away.
Donovan Puts the U.S. Ahead 2-0 against Brazil in 2009 Confederations Cup
From 2008 to 2012, Spain was perhaps the best soccer team in history, winning two consecutive Euro Championships and a World Cup between them. Right in the middle of that run, in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinals, the U.S. shocked the Spanish team by beating them and advancing to the finals, where they faced Brazil. The U.S. looked to be in command of that game as well, taking a 2-0 lead in the 28th minute as a result of one of Donovan’s most skillful goals.
The break began from America’s defensive third, a two against two. Donovan’s speed allows him to create just enough space to deal with a slightly errant return pass. His first touch is either a happy mistake or divine foresight, as Donovan plays the ball into open space behind the defender, leaving him a clear shooting lane. Then, Donovan rips a perfect shot to the far post. The goal capped off one of the most impressive 120 minutes in American soccer history, outscoring two global powerhouses 4-0.
Of course, the U.S. would go on to give up three goals in the second half and lose the game. Sometimes the best moments don’t have happy endings.
The Goal: World Cup 2010 vs. Algeria
If you know anything about American soccer, you know this goal. The U.S. drew the easiest group imaginable in the 2010 World Cup, yet with a combination of bad play and even worse luck, they required a win against Algeria in the final group match to advance. Algeria, playing all 11 men in defense for the entire game, seemed content to walk out of the tournament with keeping the U.S. from advancing as their only accomplishment. In the first minute of stoppage time, the game was still scoreless and America’s World Cup was all but over. Keeper Tim Howard throws the ball halfway down the field, where it lands on Donovan’s foot in stride. You know what happens from there.
Although others played key roles in the famous goal, it is and will always be Donovan’s glory. In the end, it’s fitting that Donovan will always be linked to American soccer’s most dramatic, important and memorable moment, because it really couldn’t have been any other way.
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