By: Jamie Trecker
Landon Donovan went from goat to hero in the space of an hour Saturday afternoon, rescuing what had been a lackluster performance with a game-defining penalty kick. For long stretches of the match, the American star had played with his head down and what seemed like a heavy heart, summed up in an atrocious 13th minute miss. With time and space, and off a fine ball served by Robbie Keane, Donovan inexplicably missed the target with a chance that it would have been easier to simply put on frame.
The final months of this season have been strange for Donovan, a player once considered the golden boy of the American game. So much had been heaped on his shoulders over the years – the endorsements, the responsibility of winning big games for the national team, and in many ways, the spirit of the modern American game itself. This year, the toll that pressure took surfaced in a series of interviews Donovan gave late this MLS season, where he indicated he was considering walking away from the game entirely.
It was hard not to see the fatigue in his gait as the match began. He stood off the play, and seemed unsure where to move when the balls were sent over. He was berated by Keane, who expressed his dismay at his strike partner’s lack of movement and urgency, but Donovan had no response to offer but a shrug and an apologetic look. Yet it would have almost been too pat, too Hollywood for him to bow out of the match with but a missed chance to his name.
Instead, addressing Tally Hall in the net from the spot after a Ricardo Clark handball in the box, Donovan crouched, contemplating the enormity of this possibly final seminal assignment on the soccer field and then smartly fired low and hard to the near post, at once liberating his team and sending The Home Depot Center into ecstasy. The remainder of the game seemed but a formality.
Donovan may indeed be gone after Saturday’s match. He has already dropped off the national team’s radar and for all we know, he might fall off MLS’ as well. But for one moment, the Donovan of old emerged, the gunslinger, cool and confident, a reminder of what he once was and may be once more.