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The USMNT and scoring road goals: A closer look


                                                                                            Photo by ISI Photos

The U.S. national team is about to embark on a grueling series of road games in the coming weeks and months that should go a long way toward testing and improving the current national team pool. With games in Poland, England and Spain now confirmed, U.S. players will have plenty of chances to show what they can do in hostile environments.

That upcoming slate of games made me think about how American players have done on the road in recent years. I couldn’t help but wonder what players have done well on the road and what players haven’t. After spending some time with the U.S. Soccer fact book I was able to uncover some rather interesting statistics.

Here are the scoring leader rankings for American players in national team games outside the United States since 2003 (a total of 27 road games):

USA road goal leaders since 2003

  • Eddie Johnson———–3
  • DaMarcus Beasley——-3
  • Carlos Bocanegra——–2
  • Steve Cherundolo——-2
  • Clint Dempsey———–2
  • Landon Donovan——– 2
  • Eddie Lewis————- 2

The one name on that list that was a bit surprising to me for not being at the top of the list is Mr. Donovan, the U.S. national team’s all-time scoring leader. In 18 games outside the U.S. since 2003, Donovan has managed two goals (one against Grenada in 2004 and one against Panama in 2005).

Is this an indictment of Donovan? That’s for you to decide. While goals never tell the whole story of a player’s value, I do think it is interesting that of Donovan’s U.S. record 35 goals, exactly four of them have come away from U.S. soil.

If you are wondering how that scoring rate compares to other players, you are not alone. I decided to take a look at Eric Wynalda’s goal totals to see how he fared. Here is a breakdown:

Of Wynalda’s 34 career U.S. national team goals, a total of eight were scored outside the United States. Of the eight, four were scored in neutral sites (including three at the 1995 Copa America). That leaves four road goals in his career (They came against Morocco,Liechtenstein, Ireland and China for those wondering).

On one hand you can point to Wynalda having twice as many away goals as Donovan, but you could also argue that Wynalda never scored a road World Cup qualifier or a World Cup goal outside of the United States (yes, apologies Eric for initially forgetting your World Cup ’94 goal).

So what does this all mean? I suppose it can mean what you want it to mean. As I have said, goals don’t tell the whole story of a player’s worth, but the fact that Donovan has 31 home goals and four away goals is an interesting statistic, as is the fact that Johnson has more road goals (three) in almost half fewer road games (10 to Donovan’s 18 games) than Donovan in the past five years.

What do you think? Do the stats show that Donovan’s stats are bloated by being racked up against weaker opponents? Are the stats misleading because Donovan has had some great road performances without goals to show for them? Is DaMarcus Beasley a more valuable player than he’s given credit for being?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. For the Donovan nay-sayers: I watched his career in San Jose and he certainly raised his game when playoff time came around. MLS playoffs are no WC qualifiers, but he consistently came through in the big games for SJ.

    I think the US in general doesn’t play tremendously away from home, especially in Central America–but those are brutal environments.

    As for the penalty kicks, well, he always makes them, doesn’t he? There are some high-profile guys who don’t, or haven’t (Beckham, Mathis).

  2. Donovan has 95 points in 96 games with the US. Next is Wynalda with 84 points on 106 games, then McBride with 70 points in 95 games, Joe-Max Moore with 62 points in 100 games…

    Regardless of where Donovan is scoring and making assists, he’s done it at a rate above anyone else in the history of US soccer – or at least among those scoring above 30 total career points (and if they’re at less than 30 who cares). Get rid of Donovan and what’s plan B?

  3. I fully accept and realize that Donovan has had some stinker games but he’s still one of the better players on the team and has been an asset more often than not.

    Plus, he’s not a striker. For a midfielder he has a pretty good strike rate. Even when he plays SS it’s still a good rate considering the duties of the position. It’s more troubling to me that EJ doesn’t have more goals.

    oh and DMB, WAY underrated.

  4. After taking a quick look at the ussoccer site to dig up some stats- 2004 and 2005 results were easily accessible- it seems that Donovan plays a larger role in our team’s success outside of teh US than many here want to admit or acknowledge.

    From what I saw, in 2004 the US scored a total of 8 goals outside of the US. Of those 8 goals, Donovan scored 1 and had 4 assists. So, statistically speaking, Donovan had a direct role in 5/8 or roughly 63% of goals scored by the US.

    In 2005, in games outside the US, when Donovan played the US scored 5 goals. Of those 5 goals, Donovan scored 1 and had 3 assists, giving him a direct role in 4/5, or 80% of the goals scored by the US. Also, in the three games outside of the US that Donovan did not play in, we tied Scotland and Guatemala, lost to Costa Rica, and managed to score just 1 goal.

    Anybody want to proceed with the indictment?

  5. This doesn’t provide insight, it just stirs the pot. How about assists? Or goals per WCQ, or goals per tournaments, or goals per top rated teams.

    Just pot stirring.

  6. You Road Goals are INCORRECT (by your def)

    Road Goals:

    Landon Donovan…..2

    Eddie Johnson……2

    DaMarcus Beasley…2

    Steve Cherundelo…2


    Now I love all these players, and this article is counter productive to analyzing players and US success abroad.

    The US plays way more home games, so how can you compare numbers? Look at PPG abroad vs home if you want to, but not this.

  7. I dont know why the US doesnt play better on the road, when almost all the key players play in europe. When it comes to Donovan, I really think his big problem is he can not ajust himself to the different styles teams play. That is why he has only shined in the MLS. He couldnt play in the German Bundesliga and he doesnt realy show up at WC’s. His goals are mostly against the CONCACAF teams, which all play pretty much the same style.

    I think once we get a player that can do well against a deffensive Italian team, or keep the pace with and English, team, and be able to take the knocks from a German team, that player will be the BEST AMERICAN PLAYER EVER!!!

    Right now when it comes to that I would say our best all-around players are:

    1- Beasley (has a good amount of CL caps)

    2- Dempsey (good in EPL and one of the best at the WC)

    3- Adu (U20 WC and now Portugal)

    4- Bradley (in time could be #1, needs CL or UEFA Cup games to prove himself)

    5- Keller (im just throwing him in here cuz he has played every where and been the man)

    I say give guys like Bradley, Adu, and Altidore time and they will be starts with a CL team in England, Spain, or Italy.

  8. All you Landy haters have really lost your perspective. No he is not C Ronaldo, and if early hype was pointing that way it was stupid.

    The no-heart comment just does not seem valid to me. As a casual fan, whenever I see him he seems to be one of the hardest working guys on the pitch. His effort in the 06 cup was huge – (no scores, true, but no unbiased observer could have watched those games and said he did not play with heart) compare that to Beasley, who everyone here seems to want to re-elevate – his performance in the cup and in a few other Nat games I have seen is best described as SOFT.

    and the cant handle pressure comment doesnt make sense either – what are PK’s but pressure situations. Like a golfer with a 10′ put to win the tourney – easy in practice but its the PRESSURE that makes it so hard. Do you really think his coaches have him take them because he will sulk if not, or because he gives the team the best chance by being on the line.

    I’m with John who said he is the best player to ever suit up for us so far, and I’ll route for him every time. (I do think Landycakes is pretty funny though)

  9. Funny how Donovan’s inconsistency leads so many people to want to diminish his contributions in any way possible.

    Are these stats an indictment of Donovan? Sure, if you want them to be.

    People should remember that Donovan does much more than score goals. He also leads the team with 27 assists. For those who are compelled to compare stats, that is 17 more assists than both Beasley and Mcbride have, and 11 more assists than Wynalda. (It would be interesting to see the breakdown on his assists on and off US soil.)

    Also, since Donovan’s MNT carreer started, I have never watched a game where Donovan didn’t play and the team looked like they weren’t desperately missing him. Games that Donovan doesn’t play in are more boring than games he does play in.

  10. Landycakes….is there a better or more complete moniker out there? It’s so hard to place this kid. I mean, years back he was thought to be the savior of US soccer, the first real player to succeed in Europe, future WC stud, all that jazz. Now what is he? An overrated inconsistent player with a lot of technical skill but no heart and no guts. He’s like one of those guys you have on your team who you have to give all the deadballs, free kicks, and PK’s to or he’ll pout for the rest of the game. I love the kid when he’s on, but those occasions are few and far between. Had he stayed in Europe and given his all I would have so much more respect for him right now.

    I hope that he plays in all these tough matches coming up. And I hope he proves me wrong and steps his game up, because I think his performances in these matches will be a big factor in what we can expect out of him in SA2010.

  11. Ryan- couldnt care less where he plays… i’m not a fan b/c i find that despite him being a big part of the team, he’s one of our more inconsistant players…. always shinning against CONCACAF teams, but fails (not all the time) against the big boys… just my opinion tho

    again, i dont take away what he’s accomplished, i just dont ride his n*ts

  12. I think the only reason so many people have beef with Landon is b/c he didn’t stay abroad. They resent the fact that he lets his talent wallow in mediocrity. They resent it big time. I do too, but not to the point of making bold claims about how much he sucks or how overrated he is. Let it go everyone, he’s just a home-body.

  13. of course we’ll have more goals scored on set pieces, for the reign of Bruce, thats all we played….

    take it down the wings and cross it over… get fouled or corner kicks, the defense will be up there… b/c lets be frank our defense is typically top notch when it comes to heading

  14. I’m curious what the US teams total ratio of away goals to all goals scored is– I’m sure it’s not great.

    Also, looking at that list and seeing Boca makes me wonder if the goals that the US scores on the road are *different* from home goals– are more of them on set pieces (in which case you wouldn’t expect to see Donovan)? Are more of them off of broken plays? That would be my guess…

  15. eric- i would say overall as a team we just dont tend to score many away goals…

    just look at recent road games…. 0-1 loss to sweden, 1-0 win over swiss, and 1-0 win over S. Africa…. not huge wins…

    but we also have to think that this is since 2003… how many road games did Arena pull in this time frame?? im assuming most those goals came from qualifiers..

  16. Does Landycakes fail to make an impact on the road because the U.S. struggles on the road, or does the U.S. struggle on the road (partially) because Landycakes doesn’t show up?

    He’s never been good at handling pressure. If the rest of the team is struggling away from home, you’d expect the team’s talisman to pick up his game. He’s certainly one of the most talented players we’ve ever had, but he’ll never lead this team to anything great under pressure.

  17. REALLY interesting post, Ives. thank you. this kind of original thought is why i read you every day.

    keep up the fantastic work.

  18. For this stat to mean something we need to know how many games were home / away. Or I might have missed it in there. Could also go deeper and see if we face tougher opponents away than we do home..?

  19. I think it’s more an indictment of the US team as a whole than in LD. I’m guessing that EJ’s goals all came on that early tear he went on in his first few games.

    The real take away here is thank god we’re playing some tough road games this summer.

  20. LD is the best player to ever suit up for the US up to this point. He is not a striker he is an attacking mid. A better passer (odd considering his dead ball strikes) than a scorer. Anyone want to do a lot of research and see how we have lined up in away games over the last 5 years. I have this feeling the formations will suggest defensive tactics not prone to produce goals from his position.

  21. Sandro- the problem is when he is in the game and doesnt show up…. to me he seems like the most inconsistant valuable players, which sounds odd, but its true…

  22. Could’ve sworn Wynalda scored a brilliant goal at Saprissa against Costa Rica during WC ’98 hexagonal play. I think US lost the game 3-2, but had a chance at a draw until losing it late.

  23. WHo cares when or where he score the goals. I give Donovan credit for all the goals he score. A true American Soccer player….. with a true heart for the American team. I prefer that then that fake dude name Rossi. Who has no heart….. Yea i said it…..

  24. I am not surprise by Eddie Johnson. He did have a good run when he first joined the US team. I think DeMarcus Beasley is under estimated but he is very valuable to US. Remember it was DeMarcus who passed to Clint for the lone Goal against Ghana in the last WC.

    LDs value is more than just goals. When he is not in the game you can tell that is hard for others to pick up the slack and the team plays at times a bit sluggish.

  25. Seisco- i agree completely… i mean who do we have that can possibly replace Beasley?? we have players to play, but noone near as good nor the amount of experience he has… we’ll soon have a wide variety of players that can step up and take over, but if beasley gets back in form after this injury he’s practically a shoe-in for 2010 (assuming noone steps up rediculously).

    i have ALWAYS been a nay-sayer about Landycakes. as much as i constantly rip into the guy, i will not take away from his accomplishments… As Davies pointed out Saturday, PK’s are complete gimmie goals… they are still earned and still have probably won games… LD’s contribution is irrefutable, but playing without him is possible (as adu is showing)… But having him is always a threat for the other team (assuming he shows up to play O.o)

  26. Yes, that was my bad on blanking on Waldo’s World Cup goal. I’m sure Wynalda will accuse me of trying to diminish his legacy (kidding).

  27. I said it before and I’ll say it again: if I were a fan of Mexico I would take heart that Donovan never scored for the MNT on Mexican soil. When he can do that, and lead us to a win, I’ll be more convinced.

    I’m glad you put this together Ives. The Donovan away goals situation jumped out at me when I looked at the US Soccer site on Donovan’s goals.

    OK, now, how about goals AND assists?

    And how does McBride stack up? He has 30 goals with the Nats, how many were away? I don’t know and I’m not intrepid enough to dig around for the answer, but while we’re at it…

  28. I think Demarcus Beasley’s value for this team cannot be stated enough. His a key element, and has the European experience.

  29. You should also include caps. It would be interesting seeing how many games vs. how many goals. I must say that I do not believe in goals as the #1 tell for a good soccer player, but I think it says something about Donovan…more simply put, he can’t play in tense situations. There are a flash in 2002 WC, but he continued on his road of mediocrity after that.

  30. While the away goals are poor, I think it might be time to change that with Bradley in charge. With the US now playing abroad more, I think we will see those totals change.

    Originally against Bradley being the head coach, I think he has done a very good job. Some picks are questionable, but at the same time there are not that many US players that deserve to get the nod. And now with him lining up away friendlies, it can only help us.

    I think these games are the perfect opportunities for players as well as coaches. Players will not be able to disappear (donovan, johnson)during matches, and if they do we are going to get embarrassed. And coaches will be forced to do something if a player is scored upon with ease (Gooch, bornstein)

  31. Actually, Wynalda did score in a WC–the marvelous goal against Switzerland in the “94 WC.

    I think the larger lesson is this: the USA struggles to score goals outside of the USA (or at least in Europe). It’s probably a combination of factors (confidence, tactical naivity, lack of talent, lack of goal scoring depth) but it certainly doesn’t help when our best goal scorer and arguably our offensive engine the past 8 years (Donovan) is either ineffective or easy to shutdown outside of the USA.


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