In a moment that didn’t prove anything regarding whether or not Landon Donovan should be on the U.S. Men’s National Team for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, but one that also showed why his exclusion from that team has made such big news the past week, Donovan set the all-time Major League Soccer goals record Sunday night.
Donovan’s record goal came early in the second half against the Philadelphia Union, putting the Los Angeles Galaxy up by a 2-0 score. The goal was Donovan’s 135th in MLS play, topping Jeff Cunningham, who cored 134 goals for five different teams. Jaime Moreno, who scored 131 of his 133 MLS goals with D.C. United, is third on the list. Donovan accomplished the mark in 311 league appearances. Moreno played in 340 MLS games, while Cunningham appeared in 365. Later in the second, Donovan added a second as the Galaxy routed the Union, 4-1.
Most people probably tabbed Donovan to get the record tonight, at the end of a week where great controversy was stirred up when U.S. Soccer head coach Jürgen Klinsmann did not name Donovan as part of the final 23-man roster for the World Cup, which begins in about three weeks. The U.S. is in a tough group with Ghana, Portugal and Germany, and Donovan is a veteran of three prior World Cups, having scored a memorable late goal against Algeria in 2010 that propelled the United States to the top of its group.
Now 32, Donovan has nothing left to prove on the club or international soccer stage. He’s won eight domestic trophies with the Galaxy (and San Jose Earthquakes before that), and four Gold Cups with the USMNT. He leads all players in American soccer history in goals and assists with the National Team.
All of which are nice stats and a wonderful resume for a great player. But very little of that probably matters to Klinsmann, who decided he had 23 players he either thought were better, or trusted more, or some combination of both, than Donovan to take to Brazil. Donovan took time off during the final round of World Cup qualifying, and perhaps that weighed on Klinsmann, though to be fair, it’s not like Donovan would just leave during the World Cup itself.
Whatever Klinsmann’s reason, Donovan’s goal Sunday night wasn’t going to suddenly jar Klinsmann’s memory and make him change his mind. To be sure the goals record is a nice cap on one of the great MLS careers. But it isn’t validation for all those who think Donovan should be going to the World Cup, just as if he hadn’t scored Sunday, it wouldn’t have been justification for those taking Klinsmann’s side. The World Cup is a completely different animal compared to anything else in the soccer world. The group was going to be tough with or without Donovan on the team.
Certainly there are folks who will think, “Hey, Donovan sure showed Klinsmann tonight.” But now with his club team for the summer (barring an unlikely injury call-up to the USMNT), Donovan’s sole focus should be to lift the Galaxy out of what has been a poor league start and back into playoff contention.
Goals like the one he scored Sunday, a nice combination play with Robbie Keane (who also assisted Donovan’s second goal) that led to pretty easy tap-in for Donovan, are the proper response from Donovan. Of course he’s disappointed, anyone would be. But it didn’t show in his play on Sunday and that’s good news for the Galaxy and bad news for future Galaxy opponents.
But scoring tap-in goals against a Philadelphia Union side that has never heard of defense (the Union have allowed nine goals in its last two matches, losing both) isn’t the same as playing Germany at the World Cup. For reasons we may never know, Klinsmann and Donovan have parted ways and that’s the way it’s going to be. Donovan’s goals Sunday, despite breaking the MLS record, doesn’t change any of that.