When most Americans think of the U.S. Men’s National Team, the first name comes to mind is Landon Donovan. Donovan has been the iconic figurehead of American soccer since he came onto the scene, scoring against Mexico in 2000.
When most USMNT fans think of Donovan, they think of his defining moments. The goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup to advance to the knockout stages has to be the most easily remembered.
However, when I think of Donovan, I think of a selfish player that plays his game and forces every other player to play a singular style of soccer. I think of the player that argued with David Beckham about taking free kicks and corners for the L.A. Galaxy. Yes, the same soccer legend Beckham that scored practically hundreds of goals off of free kicks and made the phrase and movie “Bend it like Beckham” possible.
Recently, the U.S. prospered while Donovan was away. Graham Zusi was a breath of fresh air for the USMNT. He gets in great crosses, rarely tries to one-on-one everyone he saw and had a nice mentality of putting his team first. I truly thought it was finally time to move on from the Donovan era into something more productive and less focused on one star player for the U.S.
However, with the current USMNT run in the Gold Cup, Donovan has changed my mind. He is a new player, and one that the USMNT needs. Whatever he learned about himself during his sabbatical has transferred over to his game.
Donovan is playing a completely different style of soccer than he used to. He runs back to help on defense and when he misses a shot, he follows it up. It’s like watching a center-attacking midfielder play rather than an extra forward being thrown awkwardly onto the pitch.
Maybe during his time away from soccer, Donovan looked at himself and realized that he was growing older and an international soccer career cannot last forever. I could see Donovan having success for at least three or four more years with his new-found unselfishness and team-first attitude. He’s traded cockiness for confidence, and it’s working to his benefit.
I don’t know who this new Donovan is, but I like him and I’m proud to call myself a new-found fan. I hope to see him on Jurgen Klinsmann’s final World Cup roster as a key member of the team during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.