COMMENTARY | Landon Donovan hadn't made much an impact on Tuesday evening's US Men's National Team vs. Costa Rica Gold Cup contest as the game entered the 81st minute. Neither had any other American player to be fair. A highlight reel save followed by a better-late-than-never clearance saw this country's most famous soccer star with possession on the right wing. With the ease that it takes me to pour a morning cup of coffee, Donovan played a perfect through ball for Brek Shea, who deposited the game's only goal.
He's back, everybody, and he isn't going anywhere just yet.
You'd have to look long and hard to find a more polarizing American athlete than Donovan. He plays for what is the most home teams of home teams, the United States, and yet he is often written off as a diva, an athlete more concerned about player than he is about club or country. His comments from a year ago that more than suggested that he's merely hanging around for one more World Cup run before calling time on his playing days and also his hiatus that occurred after he and LA Galaxy hoisted the MLS Cup last December seemed to prove to critics that those "Landon is in it for Landon" perceptions are accurate.
Stats that are accumulated during a second-tier tournament that features B-teams like the Gold Cup mean little. What Donovan has achieved outside of stat sheet numbers in his four-game return to national team duty has reminded all of what he is still able to bring to the US squad. Donovan, as cliché as it is to say, has simply made those who have been playing alongside him better at all aspects of their games. One could make a case for Donovan being the man of the match of each of the four contests played by the USMNT in July.
I've only ever met Donovan face-to-face once in what was the definition of a one-off encounter. Talk to people who know him, and you'll hear about a nice guy and a very talented footballer who looks at the sport as a job and not the the be-all and end-all of his existence. Football, as it's been explained to me in the past, is not life and death for the man who will, upon his retirement, immediately be the greatest American player in history.
So what if that's true? So what if Donovan does, in fact, bleed only red rather than red, white and blue? His not being there for earlier World Cup Qualifiers has been made irrelevant during the 2013 Gold Cup. Donovan isn't just showing up for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. He has been the engine of the US attack and the star player in a squad that is, if we're being honest about it, not exactly filled with World Cup first-teamers.
US Soccer has never needed Landon Donovan to be Peyton Manning off the pitch. The thought alone of Donovan starring in car or pizza commercials is absurdly comical. All Klinsmann and company require is that Donovan be what he has been this month, in-form both physically and mentally, for one more year. He may not be a favorite among all American supporters, but everybody had better enjoy watching Donovan wear a US shirt while they can.
There won't be another like him.
For more: US 1-0 Costa Rica
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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