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About any lingering doubt that Landon Donovan is the best U.S. Soccer player ever? Removed!

Oct 7, 2013, 6:30 PM EDT

Donovan-6

I have never understood the animosity that Landon Donovan can stimulate by doing nothing more than, you know, being Landon Donovan. His unreasonable detractors are legion.

So I know the push-back is coming, some of it the nuclear-tipped Angry Man variety, all screamy and scrunched-up face and all that. Grrrrr! But here goes:

If there was any remaining doubt that Landon Donovan is the best soccer player this land has every produced, is he erasing the last, lingering, stubborn vestiges of it now. I am well aware of Exhibit A that Donovan haters love to bang on about, that Donovan can never be the best U.S. man because he didn’t go to Europe and be all Euro massive.

Well, those people are just wrong.

First, Donovan did go to Europe and prove his worth in one of the globe’s top leagues. His loan spells at Everton were memorably productive, and the supporters of Goodison Park fell instantly in love with the fast, skillful and quick-thinking Californian.

But never mind. That’s not even a fight worth fighting anymore. If you want to debate about whether Kasey Keller or Claudio Reyna or Clint Dempsey even Tab Ramos or whoever is the best U.S. man ever, fair enough. Just don’t trot out the Donovan as lesser lament because he enjoys living in the United States. Please retire that one.

Meanwhile, just look at the mounting stacks of statistical evidence. The man passes the eye test, and has for a long, long time. But for those who only run their engines on the fuel of hard data, here goes:

  • Donovan just matched Major League Soccer’s all-time goal scoring mark, with 134. He is just 31, so the man’s final total could easily land north of the 150-goal milepost. Perhaps even well north. That is to say, he is not only claiming the league’s most glorious individual record, he is obliterating it.
  • Don’t forget that Donovan could also become the league’s all-time assist leader. And he could well be the only athlete ever to hold both titles. Ever!
  • Donovan is Major League Soccer’s all-time playoff scoring leader.
  • He is an MLS Best XI selection six times.
  • For the Euro snobs and the Latin soccer snob who doesn’t highly rate MLS: Donovan is the U.S. national team’s all-time leading scorer.
  • And the men’s national team’s all-time assist leader.
  • And (going back to MLS momentarily) he is the Galaxy’s all-time leading scorer.
  • Barring injury, Donovan will participate next summer in his fourth World Cup finals. Even for U.S. Soccer talent – where getting to World Cups is much easier than, say, arriving out of Europe or South American – notching a four spot on your World Cup holster means doing a whole lot of things right.
  • He has been U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year four times and Honda Player of the Year (for U.S. men) seven times.
  • He is the U.S. leader in World Cup games (12) and goals scored (5).
  • Any attempts to identify the biggest U.S. Soccer accomplishments of the last 11 years will include a heavy dose of Donovan.
  • Donovan provided one of the most famous goals in U.S. men’s national team history, the iconic, late strike against Algeria that propelled his country into the 2010 World Cup elimination phase. (“Oh, can you believe this? Goal, goal, USA! … Oh, it’s incredible.”)
  • He has four MLS Cups, four CONCACAF Gold Cups (if you’re into those) and a FIFA Confederations Cup runner-up medal.
  1. bishopofblunder - Oct 7, 2013 at 6:47 PM

    Yeah, but other than that, what has he done? :p

  2. hildezero - Oct 7, 2013 at 7:10 PM

    “Oh, can you believe this? Goal, goal, USA! … Oh, it’s incredible.”

    It wasn’t “Goal, goal, USA!”. It was “Go, go, USA!”.

    • Steve Davis - Oct 7, 2013 at 8:50 PM

      Hmmmm. I’ll have to go back and give it another listen. That doesn’t sound like something Ian Darke would say … but who knows? It was an exciting moment, and maybe the man got caught up in it.

  3. danielofthedale - Oct 7, 2013 at 7:33 PM

    You prove that LD is the best stats compiler in MLS and US National team history. But at best you made a very compelling case that he is the best player ever but that does not prove it. You talk a lot about goals and assists yet there is a group of players on the field who’s primary role is to prevent goals. So are guys like Eddie Pope, Alexi Lalas, Jeff Agoos, Marcello Balboa, and Carlos Bocanegra excluded from this conversation since they are defenders and will never be near the top of goals scored or assists?

    What about guys who play most or all of their career overseas? Players like that will never be hight in any MLS statistical category like Landon or might not have comparable career numbers but might play in leagues that are of a higher caliber than MLS. Where does a guy like Clint Dempsey who season in and season out proved to be a very good player in the EPL and not just two brief loan spells yet scarificed MLS numbers fall in on this?

    Right now MLS is not one of the best leagues in the world. In addition, US players play in leagues of varying quality all over the world. That makes straight statistical comparisions as the main criteria for best player ever less than ideal since there is so much divination of talent.

    • Steve Davis - Oct 7, 2013 at 8:54 PM

      I do see where you are coming from, and it’s a valid point. But .. sorry … if you want to make a case for any of these fine players (Pope, Lalas, Balboa et al) then fair enough. I think I’d have a good shot at winning that one in the court of public opinion. But as I attempted to make clear in the post … this is the data-driven side of the argument (along with fact-y stuff, like the awards). It’s just part of the larger debate, I suppose.

    • charliej11 - Oct 8, 2013 at 2:29 PM

      I actually agree with your point too…..now which one are you going to say was better than Landon again ?

      None. Loved em all….None.

  4. mdac1012 - Oct 7, 2013 at 9:55 PM

    Whenever you declare someone the greatest in any sport your going to get a great deal of debate because stats don’t tell the whole story. Having the most of something doesn’t necessarily make you the best at it. I prefer the “eye test” over stats anyway when looking at a player. When it comes to LD, I think the thing that sets him apart is his versatility. Whether it’s where you play him on the field or what he can do on the field, I can’t think of too many American players that can do all the things he does at the level he can do them. You can find guys who are better at individual aspects of the game, but not too many that can provide that much variety at that level.

    A big knock on him is that he didn’t spend much time in Europe. I think if he had played in Europe for an extended period while in his prime, he would have been done very well and this wouldn’t even be a debate. There is no way to prove that, it’s just an opinion. I have friends that live in England, that think LD would have been just another player in the EPL, nothing special. Again, just an opinion, no way to prove it.

    I also think a lot of criticism is directed at LD not because of his play but because of his personality. He has not always embraced being the “top” American player and tends to march to the beat of his own drum. But anyone with a set of eyes can see that the guy can play.

  5. enzodolani - Oct 7, 2013 at 10:16 PM

    When anyone thinks of U.S. soccer, they think of Landon Donovan. When we went to Costa Rica last month the Costa Ricans had Donovan on the cover of their soccer magazines. Don’t forget he also played for Bayern Munich although he wasn’t as productive there as he was for Everton. Overall, he has to be the best, but with some of the young players the U.S. has, I don’ think that’ll be the case for long.

    • braxtonrob - Oct 8, 2013 at 5:34 AM

      “but with some of the young players the U.S. has, I don’ think that’ll be the case for long.”

      You’re spraying your ‘Optimism’ all in my face, it’s too much! :/

  6. hildezero - Oct 8, 2013 at 2:03 AM

    Also, don’t forget he played in Bayer Leverkusen which is where he started his professional soccer career, then came back to USA and played for San Jose.

  7. braxtonrob - Oct 8, 2013 at 5:37 AM

    I think you’re right Steve (even if you were speaking stats & resume only), Landon is unequivocally the best this country has ever produced, even better than Bert Patenaude :P

    Defenders were mentioned, and if the discussion were greatest defender (those named were great), but I choose Thomas Dooley, just for the record.

  8. wwsiralexd - Oct 8, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    “That’s not even a fight worth fighting anymore.”

    I have the same thought. And you probably bought the “I turned down Manchester United’s interest”, didn’t you?

    • charliej11 - Oct 8, 2013 at 2:32 PM

      No, but I am guessing that you probably bought, the whole I love Everton routine and thought he would actually play there.

  9. tridecagon - Oct 9, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    “Don’t forget that Donovan could also become the league’s all-time assist leader. And he could well be the only athlete ever to hold both titles. Ever!”

    I’m not sure exactly what you meant by that, but Wayne Gretzky holds the NHL all-time goals and assists records.

  10. goal141 - Oct 10, 2013 at 7:46 AM

    you forgot a fact that is not well known nor ever reported. He is the only American player to ever receive votes for FIFA World Player of the Year. He got two third place votes in 2002.

    • braxtonrob - Oct 11, 2013 at 9:12 AM

      Here’s hoping he gets two 1st place votes in 2014, … because you KNOW what that means just happened! :)

  11. braxtonrob - Oct 11, 2013 at 9:12 AM

    Here’s hoping he gets two 1st place votes in 2014, … because you KNOW what that means just happened! :)

  12. mantitebow - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    “Just don’t trot out the Donovan as lesser lament because he enjoys living in the United States. Please retire that one.”
    You sound like a LeBron fan telling Jordan fans rings down count, Look at LBJ stats, he is much better than MJ if you don’t count Championships.

    You are only as good as your competition and Dempsey is one of the few Americans who has succeeded in a tier 1 league. I will take Dempsey over Donovan.

  13. mfmaxpower - Oct 12, 2013 at 11:09 PM

    “I have never understood the animosity that Landon Donovan can stimulate by doing nothing more than, you know, being Landon Donovan. His unreasonable detractors are legion.”

    I’m one of those that really dislike Landon… but I also would never argue that he’s not our best player of all time.

    IMO you’re being a little misleading by painting Donovan detractors as doubters of his talent and accomplishments, when in fact most of us who aren’t LD fans feel that way simply because of his personality. He simply rubs a lot of us wrong and isn’t an easy guy to cheer for (when he’s not wearing a USMNT shirt).

  14. vicente1302 - Oct 13, 2013 at 7:47 PM

    Donovan is my favorite American player of all time…. would have him in my lineup anyday….he may or may not be the best American player of all time but to me he is…he could play almost any position other than def mid (maybe) and of course CB.

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