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Landon’s Legacy: Soccer Star Says Farewell To Team USA

By Brian Trusdell | Oct. 08, 2014, 3:05 p.m. (ET)

Landon Donovan celebrates the game-winning goal during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Group C match between USA and Algeria at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium on June 23, 2010 in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa.

When Landon Donovan retires from soccer at the end of the year, he will leave with several records. And not obscure ones, either.

Despite being only 32, Donovan has the most goals in U.S. national team history (57) and the most goals in Major League Soccer history (144). This past weekend, Donovan became MLS’ all-time assists leader (136). He also has the most assists in U.S. national team history (58). In addition, he shares the record for most MLS Cup titles won (five).

And he could add to all of those before the year is over.

Donovan’s Los Angeles Galaxy sits second in the Western Conference with the MLS playoffs beginning later this month. For the national team, though, Donovan’s last chance to suit up is Friday, when the United States plays Ecuador in a friendly in East Hartford, Connecticut. U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann named Donovan the captain for Friday’s game. The match will mark Donovan’s last game with the team and the team’s first game on U.S. soil since playing in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this summer.

“Playing for the U.S. national team has been a huge part of my career, and I’m ecstatic to have the opportunity to play for my country one last time,” said Donovan, a 15-year veteran with U.S. men’s team, in a statement. “I’m so grateful to all the fans that have supported me, and this game will give me the chance to say thank you to all of them.”

While Donovan’s legacy in the record books is set in stone, some of his contemporaries — and some of his former contemporaries turned analysts — say the forward’s impact on American soccer will be measured in ways other than those that appear in statistical summaries.

“One thing you have to pay Landon a ton of respect for, he made it OK to come back (to the United States) to play in your prime,” said Brian Dunseth, Donovan’s teammate on the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team that finished fourth in Sydney, who is now an analyst with NBC Sports Network, Fox Soccer and Real Salt Lake broadcasts.

“What David Beckham did for Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Robbie Keane — Landon did for Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. They acknowledged the standard was high enough (in Major League Soccer), that it was an environment where they could compete and excel and step into national team without losing a beat.

“He deserves so much more credit than he’s given.”

Landon Donovan #21 celebrates with his medal after the CONCACAF Gold Cup championship match against Costa Rica at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on Feb. 2, 2002..

Donovan’s honors in a U.S. national team uniform alone are unmatched. Besides helping the United States to its best finish in the Olympic Games in 2000, he also was a member of the best U.S. team at a FIFA World Cup when it reached the quarterfinals in 2002 (the first time since 1930) and the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup team that was runner-up.

He won four CONCACAF Gold Cups, was the U.S. Soccer Player of the Year four times, the Honda Player of the Year seven times, the Best Younger Player at the 2002 World Cup, the Golden Ball winner at the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Cup and the 2013 Gold Cup Most Valuable Player.

Although he was dropped from the U.S. roster by Klinsmann right before World Cup this summer, Donovan will get one more chance to wear the U.S. uniform Friday night.

“His legacy will live on,” said DaMarcus Beasley, Donovan’s long-time U.S. teammate and Houston Dynamo defender. “Every game, I’m sure, they’ll come up with some Landon comment, where Landon scored a goal, or Landon had an assist: ‘Oh that looked like Landon,’ or ‘That was a Landon-type goal’. Landon will always be there.”

A professional since he was 17, Donovan made his U.S. debut in 2000 at 18, coming on as a substitute and scoring a goal in a 2-0 friendly victory against Mexico.

Although he began his career with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, Donovan languished on the club’s reserve teams for two years. He worked a loan deal to return home and play for the San Jose Earthquakes in Major League Soccer for four seasons.

He returned to Leverkusen in 2004-2005 before coming home again and joining the LA Galaxy. He would go on loan periodically, to Bayern Munich in Germany and to Everton in England, but MLS was where he made his career. That was a choice that drew scorn and derision from some who thought the U.S. league was not worthy of someone the United States was billing as top-class.

“MLS needed somebody to be here and also to be successful with the national team and to be that American poster boy for MLS, and Landon did an excellent job of doing that,” said former U.S. teammate Kasey Keller, who played in England, Spain and Germany before returning to the United States and is now an analyst with ESPN and on Seattle Sounders broadcasts.

“So he didn’t win a Champions League with Bayern Munich. Fair enough. No American has reached those high echelons as well.”

Short of winning a World Cup or a European title in Europe, Donovan clearly is the most accomplished, and some have said the best, player the United States has produced.

And it’s a void Beasley said won’t be quickly filled.

“We’re going to miss Landon for a while,” Beasley said. “He’s not going away anytime soon. His legacy precedes him. He’s been amazing, phenomenal. It’s pretty cool that I can call him my friend.”

Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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