Let's just be real about it -- soccer hasn't caught on with the American public. Most of us don't even know the rules of the game let alone our MLS players' names or statistics. There have been hundreds of thousands of debates raging over the last few decades as to why this phenomenon of soccer-disinterest has taken root in the States. But all the apathy, all the detachment may have been converted in just a few split seconds with Landon Donovan's gritty goal in added time against Algeria to advance the US into the second round of the World Cup.
It was one of those moments in sports history in which time seems to stand still in the midst of wild hysteria. Landon Donovan became the hottest trending topic on Twitter, sports bars around the country erupted in celebration, vuvuzelas blasted throughout South Africa, and text messages, instant messages, and Facebook status updates were consumed with USA soccer for hours.
The US, in one moment, with one goal, became interested, invested, intrigued. And we have our very own hero, Landon Donovan, to thank.
Major League Soccer thought it would take an "import" like David Beckham to attract Americans to soccer stadiums around the country. When the Los Angeles Galaxy agreed to a $250 million contract in 2007 with Beckham, they were expecting him to launch MLS to the forefront of American sports -- up there with the NBA and NFL. The folks at MLS would have even settled for MLB's dwindling ratings. But the "Beckham Effect" never took root.
In the meantime, MLS made the mistake of sidelining their greatest asset -- a homegrown soccer genius, a humble team leader, and a monster on the pitch -- Landon Donovan. Donovan, at 28, already has 3 MLS Cup championships under his belt. He is ranked near the top for goals scored and was MLS Most Valuable Player in 2009. Yet, in 2007, when MLS brought David Beckham from England to "save" American soccer, Landon Donovan got the shaft. He was forced into giving up his role as Captain of his LA Galaxy team to make room for Beckham's ego. And what has Beckham brought American soccer? Nothing but unfulfilled expectations, chronic and poorly timed injuries, and a Hollywood ego.
Landon, on the other hand, is what the MLS needs. A native Californian, a hard worker, and a superstar athlete. He has proven his worth not only for his MLS teams including the LA Galaxy, but also for his national team. His added time heads-up goal against Algeria was another example of Donovan's quiet yet phenomenal legacy.
And as that ball flew into the net and Landon slid on the pitch like he was enjoying a summer Slip-n-Slide, the entire culture of US soccer changed. Americans are poised to embrace soccer now. They want to join the rest of the world in their love for this game. But we need our own heroes. Landon Donovan is our man. The only question that remains is -- will American soccer seize the Donovan Moment?
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