We’ve known Landon through his early trials and tribulations in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen.
We groaned when he was loaned back to the nascent MLS league to play for the San Jose Earthquakes. Jeers turned to cheers when he led the Earthquakes to two MLS Cups. Confused and bemused we wondered how our best player could spurn the prestige of the European stage to slum for the LA Galaxy.
He made up for it with his international play, becoming the U.S. all-time leading scorer and single-handedly taking the U.S. into the second round of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
He won two more MLS Cups with two other iconic international players at his side.
After two successful trysts with the Everton fans at Goodison Park, we felt surely he would now seize the moment and show the world that American soccer wears big-boy pants.
Then he quit.
Went cold turkey and took a soccer sabbatical.
We were stunned, irritated and baffled. What is our Golden Boy up to this time?
How does our Main Guy walk off the field in the middle of World Cup qualifying? Can’t he see that we’re struggling to qualify?
And what’s this nonsense about “desire”? Elite athletes ooze the stuff from every pore and orifice. They aren’t supposed to “lose” it, they’re supposed to have enough to go around and feed all of us a little taste.
Maybe that’s the problem.
We get so wrapped up in what our elite sport stars do for us that we forget that the heart of a champion is still a human heart—and human hearts can be broken.
Donovan’s heart wasn’t in it anymore. After playing the beautiful game literally nonstop for the past three years, Landon was struggling to find the inner desire to do it all over again.
Donovan played with Bayern Munich after the 2008 MLS season and with Everton after the ’09 and ’10 seasons. In his spare time he captained the Nats to the finals of the 2009 Confederations Cup, qualified the U.S. for the 2010 World Cup and then made it the Landon Donovan show with goals against Slovenia and Algeria that got the U.S. to the second round.
Since January of 2009, Donovan has played 152 games. That was also the year he separated from his now ex-wife.
What do we expect from this man?
His second appearance for the LA Galaxy after returning from his break was a second-half appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal against Monterey.
Overall, Donovan looked pretty good handling the ball in tight spaces. He broke into space several times, so the speed is still there, and he passed his vision test as he delivered a few dangerous passes.
The rust was just visible in the 65th minute, when Donovan fluffed a shot that we expect him to bury. The shot was a left-footed volley off a short chip from Robbie Keane—a very difficult shot to execute.
The TV commentator reacted with the assertion that if Donovan was 90 percent of his normal self the ball was as good as in the back of the net. Comments like this are emblematic of the expectations and pressure heaped on Donovan’s shoulders. He is expected to be perfect at 90 percent of his ability.
Maybe that play is indicative of why Landon took his mental break in the first place. How can anyone live up to expectations like that?
Now that the prodigal son has returned, what can we expect from Landon after his sojourn?
We can expect him to be himself.
When Donovan bites into a competition there is no one more dedicated and more competitive than America’s soccer wunderkind. He came back to soccer, and that should tell us everything we need to know.
When Donovan puts on a team’s colors, regardless of the strip, you know he will leave it all on the field and carry his team on his back if necessary.
His back is well rested and his heart’s desire has returned. Who would be surprised if Landon Donovan saved the best for last?
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