Landon Donovan scores twice for Galaxy to add fuel to World Cup snub controversy
CARSON, Calif. – They weren't Landon Donovan's most spectacular goals or his most significant. And they won't do a single thing to change the mind of Jurgen Klinsmann.
But when Donovan ended a dramatic week that saw his World Cup dream extinguished by striking home the Galaxy's second and fourth goals in a 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, there have been few sweeter moments in his 15-year professional career.
The StubHub Center in this enclave of Los Angeles is a long way removed from the gleaming new stadia that will host this summer's World Cup in Brazil, both in distance and gravitas. Yet this is home for Donovan, the 32-year-old stalwart and sometimes hero of three United States' World Cup campaigns but deemed not good enough to make Klinsmann's 23-man roster.
And home can bring certain comforts. Like the presence of his divorced parents, his sister and nephew, his godchild and countless other friends who changed plans to lend support at the time he most needed them. Like banners in Donovan's honor, the chants of "U-S-A" as the crowd voiced its displeasure at Klinsmann's decision and the standing ovation he got when he was replaced with 10 minutes left feeling spent, emotionally and physically.
"The support has been overwhelming," Donovan said. "It is funny the way things work out. I try to stay present but it is hard. All day today, my mind was wondering, thinking of where else I could be. All I said to myself was to enjoy this game and do my best and I am glad I was able to do that."
Donovan's best has been missing for large parts of this season and, some would argue, for much of the last couple of years. Yet with a point to prove in the face of Klinsmann's stunning snub he was re-energized here.
It took just two minutes for him to float a free kick that set up Galaxy defender Leonardo for a header and the opening goal. But what he, the crowd and a vast subsection of the American soccer public wanted to see more than anything was a Donovan goal. For that, the wait was a little longer.
Three minutes into the second half, it arrived. Robbie Keane slid a perfect low pass that was so accurate and well-timed that Donovan couldn't miss, and he didn't. And the goal made history – it was Donovan's 135th regular-season goal in Major League Soccer to finally pass Jeff Cunningham on the all-time goal-scoring list.
In the context of the week, though, the goal meant so much more. Donovan sank to his knees immediately before being engulfed by his teammates, then the reserves and his coaches as he headed to the sideline, before being handed the ball to keep. For all the outrage and outpouring on social media when Donovan was among the last seven cuts from Klinsmann's 23-man squad, it was this very tangible show of affection from the staff and supporters of his club that meant most.
Never mind that this was a sleepy Sunday afternoon on a holiday weekend, and many of those that usually head for Galaxy games had other plans. Nor that this was a miserably poor Philadelphia side that has won twice in 14 games this season and eventually shipped a third goal to Keane and a fourth to Donovan late in the second half. Or that Klinsmann probably wasn't watching, or if he was, is unshakeable in the decision he made on Donovan.
This was a statement, not the kind that will make a coach alter his outlook but one made in the court of public opinion. And it's one that brought Donovan a sense of satisfaction he did not try to conceal.
"It has been a long week," he said. "It is hard not to make it about me. I don't necessarily want it to be that way, but I've sacrificed a lot to be in the position I am in. I was very happy for myself. I've dedicated a lot to this and I think I deserve what happened today.
"It is incredible. You have no idea how many messages I have received, literally thousands of messages from people around the country and around the world.
"I want to get back to enjoying football because this week I had moments where I fell out of love with it."
Even the staunchest supporters of Donovan would admit he has hardly been in World Cup form, but the argument in his favor was always centered around his pedigree and the fact that, somehow, he has often had the knack to produce his best when the moment arose or his cage was rattled in the right way.
"There are some things in life you can't control," Donovan said. "What you can control is how you react. By no means was I going to let one decision that went against me affect me going forward."
There is a growing school of thought around the U.S. camp that the surprisingly early announcement of the 23 was exclusively because of Donovan – that it was better to get the ensuing controversy over his omission finished with 3½ weeks before the World Cup instead of two.
Rightly or wrongly, the events of Sunday will only serve to keep the issue on the lips of this country's soccer public and, inevitably, place more scrutiny on Klinsmann should the team struggle for scoring power in Brazil.
Donovan cut an exhausted figure during postgame interviews on Sunday, worn down by the travails of his tumultuous week. Two hours later, as he left the stadium, his feet dragged a little. But his head was held high.
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