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Five years later, Donovan goal still resonates as a turning point for soccer in the U.S.

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Photo by Jim Brown/USA Today Sports

By RYAN TOLMICH

Exactly five years ago, U.S. Soccer fans all over the country sat scared.

Nervous, sweating, nauseous, the dream looked to be dead, ending yet another World Cup in disappointment before the sport of soccer faded back to its place as the Big Four’s little brother, not to utter a peep for four long years.

But then, in the dying moments of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s final group stage match against Algeria, Landon Donovan scored.

Donovan may no longer be an active member of the USMNT, but his 2010 World Cup goal against Algeria still resonates as much as any in the history of U.S. Soccer.

Tuesday marks the five-year anniversary of Donovan’s now famous goal, but for many, it feels like just yesterday that the LA Galaxy star dashed into the box and smashed home a Clint Dempsey rebound. Riding Donovan’s last minute finish, the U.S. survived the Algeria scare, moving on to the tournament’s knockout stages.

However, Donovan’s finish was much more important than that.

For many, that goal was a turning point, a spark that pushed the sport into something much more than it previously was. It served as a rallying cry, a moment, one that got even the most casual of soccer fans to stand up and admit that moments like Donovan’s were something truly special.

Five years later, the game is still far from where many believe it needs to be, but it’s impossible not to admit that things have changed in a major way since Donovan’s darting run into the box.

The aftershocks have been felt ever since.

Donovan’s league, Major League Soccer, has continued to see interest rise with five teams added to the fray and four more expected to join in the coming years. The European game has boomed, with the Premier League firmly entrenching itself as the Saturday morning ritual for the masses of sports fans looking to fix their competitive cravings.

However, at no point did the game’s arrival feel more apparent than the 2014 World Cup, one that coincidentally took place sans-Donovan.

USMNT supporters traveled and convened in masses. Thousands gathered in public areas, bars and backyards, praying that just maybe a moment like Donovan’s could once again push the U.S. to victory. Meanwhile, much further south, the USMNT’s contingent of traveling fans were among the most vocal in the world, demonstrating the game’s growth for all to see.

It’s hard to imagine much of that happening without Donovan’s moment, his spark. Without Donovan’s finish, it’s hard to envision the landscape of U.S. Soccer feeling the same way as it does at this very moment.

Five years later, Donovan’s goal still reigns supreme. Widely recognized as the USMNT’s best ever player, Donovan’s contributions are countless, his records unmatched.

However, as monumental as Donovan’s career may have been, his biggest impact came in a split second, just one touch; a touch that pushed U.S. Soccer into an ascendancy that continues even five years later.

What was your experience of Donovan’s goal? How much has that finish changed your view of the game? How important do you think the goal was in the growth of soccer in the U.S.?

Share your thoughts below.

Comments

  1. I was there, on the field, as a media photographer. One of the most special moments of my 40-year career in a wide variety of sports. Was also in Brazil, and IMHO, Landon was what was missing, they made it no further in last year’s tournament without him, but with him, alas, we’ll never know…

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  2. I love Darke’s play call on this, but for me, I still get goose bumps listening to Andres Cantor’s call in Spanish.

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  3. As i sit here at work reading this i feel the goosebump and teary eye coming as it just happen. I will always remember sitting in the living room with my children and wife getting ready for work. As soon Timmy passes the ball to Donovan-Altidore-Dempsey and Donovan scores. We all jump & scream goooooooal!!! i think the whole neighborhood woke up. Best feeling in the world. VIVA RED WHITE & BLUE.. USMNT

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  4. I agree that it was a turning point. Those of us who were already soccer fans may think of the 2009 Confederation Cup win over Spain or getting up in the middle of the night to watch the 2002 team, but for the country as a whole, it was Donovan’s goal against Algeria. It was the first time that ALL of the water cooler talk in the office was about soccer, and it was all about “that goal.”

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  5. Donovan’s goal was the first time I recall seeing “the internet” react the exact same way I experienced an event (in a large room nervously packed full, then pandemonium). But I don’t agree with the notion that it was a turning point for fans of soccer’s support in the US. US fans have always travelled well, includng to South Africa, and would always have travelled well to a World Cup played in a very friendly country in our hemisphere. Further, the very existence of “the internet” reaction to Donovan’s goal demonstrates that the USMNT, and soccer in general, was already enjoying broad support. The author mistakes the moment as a spark of something new, rather than an announcement of what already existed.

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  6. Still get the CHILLS!! Will always remember the video footage of people on Wall Street jumping when the goal happened!

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  7. Counter-attack versus Brazil in the Conferations Cup. Beasley one-touch to Donovan … Donovan one-touch to Davies … Davies one-touch to Donovan … Donovan one-touch cut to the left, shot with left, goal!

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    • Beating impossible World Cup holders Spain, then going up 2-0 on Brazil in a FIFA final on that spectacular team goal. That was the apex of US Soccer to date (cue: if only Wondo had not missed…). Shame we had to play the second half of the final…

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      • Except the Confed Cup was in 2009 and Spain didn’t win the World Cup until 2010 so they weren’t the holders. They were reigning Euro 2008 Champs though.

      • Yes! That 135 minute stretch where US had outscored Spain and Brazil 4-0 in a competitive tournament (and if you wind back to the Egypt game, 7-0 over 2.5 games) was the peak performance for U.S. soccer in modern times. There was a definitive “style” to the U.S. play- a brick wall defensively and a deadly, oh so deadly counter-attack paced by raw speed and youth, that produced Altidore and Dempsey’s goals against Spain and LD’s against Brazil. Exiting that tournament, expectations were sky high. Davies and Altidore looked set for a decade-long run up top with Dempsey and Donovan in support. Bradley and the waiting to heal from injury and FIFA-approved switcher Jermaine Jones to form the backbone. Spector was a revelation at RB, with Dolo’s expected return from injury to add more depth. At CB, Boca and Gooch provided a veteran and top-league experienced presence. Holden made his mark at the GC and looked set to provide another CM option for the WC.

        Still bummed that Davies and Gooch and Holden never properly healed up and returned to peak form….

  8. If you look back at that WC, the whole group stage ended up being the build up for LD’s goal.

    USA v. England was dripping with the “special relationship” history of the two countries. And while it wasn’t a great game, the “Hand of Clod” goal made front page headlines.

    USA v. Slovenia had the US storming back from 2 goals down. The injustice of the phantom foul disallowing Edu’s game winner. Remember the outcry over the call. That really lit the fuse and generated a huge amount of media coverage.

    Which then set the stage for the third game and LD’s goal v. Algeria. It was really the perfect ending for those three group stage games.

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    • For me, there will always be that moment in the England game when a young Jozy Altidore turned on Jamie Carragher. Time slowed down as he got around him and adjusted to shoot. It looked like we were about to witness the greatest goal in US World Cup history, a win against England, and the birth of the first American soccer superstar. The difference between that ball rattling off the post and it sailing in a few inches to the right… Ironically, Donovan’s goal probably never happens if Jozy had scored there.

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  9. I will never watch another USMNT match while Klinnsman is in charge!

    That guy will never be half the legend that Landon Donovan still is.

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  10. I don’t know about turning point, I don’t think US soccer was declining at that point, but without a doubt milestone event and one of the best moments in US soccer. We will not get passed back by those countries, like England, that we passed with that goal.

    Landon was the greatest US guy to ever play. He was so incredible on the counter. One of the best I have ever seen. Everyone was great on that play, but he of course had to be a part of it.

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  11. the 3 goals IN THE FIRST HALF v. portugal in the wee hours of the morning was the greatest 45 minutes i’ve ever spent.

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    • For sure!It was so strange being up by myself watching this.I had to be quiet because my wife and one year old daughter were sleeping.I don’t think I will ever silently celebrate so hard ever again.That half was amazing.I felt so vindicated because I had talked this team up so much!I think the biggest turning point for US soccer was 94 though.To have the tournament here and have Americans see first hand the passion and the energy this worldwide sport has, was by far the biggest catalyst.I went to two matches that year at The Cotton Bowl.I saw Argentina vs Bulgaria and Germany vs South Korea.The first was so amazing.I had never seen players of this caliber in person before.I was blown away by the skill,passion of the fans,and by what a great match it was!I didn’t know who Stoichkov was at the time.All I knew was Maradona,who couldn’t play because he failed a drug test for what I think was mini thins or pseudo-ephedrine.I was a fan for life after tihis experience.I was on the goal end for Klinsmanns goal against South Korea.I had no idea who he was.It’s funny that he’s our coach now…I think there are many things that have contributed to the growth of soccer in our country.Donovans goal against Algeria being one of them.I think if you look back,the biggest factor has to be the 94 World Cup.It set the stage for MLS which had a very rocky beginning.Soccer specific stadiums have saved the day though.There is a very long list of factors but I think the 94 World
      Cup is the biggest.

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  12. Donovan’s goal was a great moment for US Soccer, and I would agree that it was a turning point for the sport. MLS has grown, fan interest has grown, and overall, I believe the USMNT has grown.

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  13. Went to South Africa to watch for the first family vacation we’ve had in 20 years. Had a tough relationship with her growing up. That trip brought us together…20 days exploring, stuck together in the same car and hotel. We hugged each other longer than I think we ever had at that moment. Truly powerful for me as a lifelong fan, and for my family in other ways.

    *cue emotional musical*

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  14. If I had to pick, I’d go with 2002 run to the quarterfinals. The U.S. finally had some young legit breakout players…. went further into the WC than they ever had. Also, 2009 Confederations Cup run was amazing and an incredible accomplishment to beat Spain at it’s peak. In 2010, let’s not forget they were in an incredibly weak group playing Algeria. Yes, a memorable moment, but not too impressive.

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    • Algeria, who in the last World Cup, made it to the knock outs and took Germany to extra time. Actually if it weren’t for Neuer they had a couple chances to pull off the upset in that one.

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    • I have to agree with you in that there were no expectations for the 2002 squad. Everyone was predicting “three and out”. However, there just weren’t the number of “eyeballs” on that tournament because the games were played very early in the morning and there were few travelling fans from the US. Overall, I think the Algeria game had a greater impact.

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      • I’d vote for the 2009 win vs Spain.

        Absolutely no one gave the US a chance.

        It was an official FIFA tournament, not a friendly.

        At the time Spain were on a long unbeaten run, Euro champs basically playing as if they were from another planet and win got the US into its first, I believe, final. I still think we should have won the final.

        And finally, it set the stage for the 2010 World Cup.

  15. A stunning moment, and the best win I have ever seen, but I think it’s an overstatement to say it was *the* turning point for U.S. soccer.

    Now I have to go find the YouTube clips of all the crazy fans all over the country as they witnessed the goal . . .

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    • Brain Guy: Agreed, stunning moment for me as well and no doubt a huge game in history for the US soccer record books but the turning point for me was Donovan’s and Beasley’s first World Cup in 2002. We started the cup with a stunning win against Portugal, advanced the 1st round group, shocked Mexico, dos-a-cero in the second round to lead the US into the quarter-finals. We lost the quarter finals game against Germany, 1-0 in a very competitive match but failed short to score the equalizer. For me, 2002 World Cup was the defining moment that made me realize US Soccer was here to stay.

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  16. I was in an English summer course, sitting in the last row with my laptop, watching through a somewhat blocky stream….i nearly jumped outta my desk.

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    • Priorities man, priorities! Efff the English class, get the notes from someone. Get yourself to a pub with other supporters.

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  17. It was the last huge moment for US Soccer. Before that, others had their time in the spotlight too. Portugal 2002, Dos a cero, Beating a long-undefeated Spain in the Confederations Cup. There will be one that surpasses it, and probably not until the next World Cup.

    But was it “the” moment? Probably not. I don’t think there will be one ultimate moment where US Soccer turned a corner. If there were it was probably before 2010 anyways. Good article though. That was an amazing game and the energy of the bar I watched it in was electric.

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    • the ’02 was still our best (since the ancient times) achievement but it was followed by years of good developments but not really advancing .. i also consider the victory over Spain as the ‘turning point’ and the LD goal as the reassurance that we are ready to compete for the WC.

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  18. I was at the game. On the end of the field LD scored on. I was standing on my seat (I’m short) and when it went in I jump so high and got pushed in the back by other celebrating fans that I ended up 3 rows in front of where I was initially standing. It was pandemonium! Far and away the best sports moment of my life.

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  19. That was quite a moment, and I remember where I was (not in the office) and who I was with (a co worker). One quibble: although the record books will mark it as LD’s goal, to be fair, it was a team goal. The attack was started by Tim Howard’s pinpoint throw to the midfield (to LD), who passed it to Jozy and Clint (who shot right at the GK), only for LD to tap in the rebound. Ian Darke also deserves credit for putting the immortal words “can you believe it, goal goal USA” into our soccer memories for forever.

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    • The immortal words of Darke for me personally were right after those with “Certainly Through! Oh it’s incredible!’

      The best part of this goal is the emotional roller-coaster you go on in like 2 seconds. From the lowest of lows (Dempsey’s shot getting blocked) to the highest of highs (LD pouncing on the rebound).

      This goal capped the best 2.5 weeks of my life as a sports fan, with the Blackhawks ending their 61-year Stanley Cup drought exactly 2 weeks prior to this, the World Cup starting the day of the parade/rally then the next day being US/England. Also, right after this goal, ESPN went to Wimbledon where John Isner and Nicolas Mahut were in a deadlock 5th set that ended up being the longest match in history.

      The rush of LDs goal didn’t wear off for me until after the Ghana game (which I assume most soccer fans had a similar experience).

      If only Wando had scored against Belgium….

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  20. Donovan coming off the bench to score against Belgium last summer would have been even bigger, but that’s crazy talk.

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    • OMG you are so right on! Imagine if it was Donovan that came on instead of Wondo in the Belgium game and he actually made the goal?!!!! That would have been so incredibly insane!

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    • ya.. and what if he was bickering with the coaching staff or slaking in training through the whole group stage; would we even be in the R16? I have no knowledge or belief that he was, and a lot of respect for LD, but Jurgen picked role players over all stars and navigated us out of the group of death. group mentality was huge and overlooked by fans. but yes; would have been nice to pull him off the bench! but sometimes its more complicated than your video games or how we see it on tv..

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      • -“more complicated than your video games” umm k.. (snarky response to a perceived Klinsmann slight).

        -“group mentality was huge and overlooked by fans”. Or perhaps invented by you? We have no evidence to suggest that Donovan would have been disruptive to group chemistry, or that the group without Donovan had great chemistry.

        Anecdotes: Kobe/Shaq Lakers, enough said. Also, my Dodgers made it deep into the playoffs the last two seasons, yet people say that the clubhouse those two years (especially last year) was probably the worst or one of the worst in history. Basically a lot of the players hated each other and the coaching staff, and it was tense every single day at work.
        What’s the point? You can win and lose with both good and bad team chemistry.
        Back to the USMNT, people assume that because we made it out of the “group of death” (nevermind the losing World Cup record of 1w, 1d, 2L) that team chemistry must have been great. We wouldn’t know unless we were there and part of the group.

      • “Back to the USMNT, people assume that because we made it out of the “group of death” (nevermind the losing World Cup record of 1w, 1d, 2L) that team chemistry must have been great. We wouldn’t know unless we were there and part of the group.”

        Your logic also means that we wouldn’t know what LD is really like in the locker room. No sane USMNT player would come out and say anything bad about him after all. You see how much flak JK drew and no USMNT player past or present could take that kind of flak.

        beto’s assumptions about the USMNT are not unreasonable.

        The USMNT had almost without question the least talented roster, man for man, of their 2014 World Cup Group. Yet, the USMNT team made it out of their Group.

        This suggests that whatever it was, good. bad or indifferent, the team “chemistry” was good enough to accomplish the task and to push Belgium to the brink in the next round.

      • “Your logic also means that we wouldn’t know what LD is really like in the locker room.” –

        Correct, but unlike Beto, I am not blindly assuming that Donovan is great or not great in the locker-room for the basis of my argument to defend Klinsmann’s decision. What we do know is that Donovan has been with the USMNT a looooong time, and we have never heard anything about him being a bad locker-room guy.

        “This suggests that whatever it was, good. bad or indifferent, the team “chemistry” was good enough to accomplish the task” –

        correct again if the task was merely to survive the group. Also, “good enough” is different than great. Also, the chemistry might have still been “good enough” with Donovan there.

        Basically I am saying that people need to stop inventing these “would have been a disruptive guy” narratives to attempt to rationalize Klinsmann’s decision.

      • Everyone has their suspicions but until JK writes his tell all memoirs no one I know of, besides JK himself, really knows exactly why Donovan was left off of the team.

        beto isn’t inventing anything. He is merely voicing one plausible theory, that perhaps JK felt he wasn’t good for the team “chemistry”.

        This is a rationale that could be valid for all the bubble players who were eventually left off. It doesn’t necessarily mean LD was a bad guy, or that he was “disruptive”,or sleeping with anyone’s wife.

        It might just mean JK felt the group “chemistry “ (whatever that means ) was better w/o LD there. The manager is responsible for the “team chemistry” so that is something he is better equipped to judge than you are. For you to advise a manager on his “team chemistry “ decisions is like you telling someone you are better equipped to judge who they should marry than they are.

        How could you possibly know better than beto what effect LD would have had on team chemistry, positive or negative?

        Not that I agree with LD’s detractors in the attached link but as for your contention that we have no evidence to suggest that Landon would have been disruptive to group chemistry, well, that may not be entirely accurate:

        http://worldsoccertalk.com/2009/07/15/landon-donovan-troubling-signs-of-immaturity-reappear/

        One more thing, your reply indicates that you feel the USMNT should have beaten Belgium and that they were guilty of not planning to.

        It should be clear to everyone that the USMNT could have beaten Belgium, and that, but for Wondo’s miss, would have beaten Belgium.

        It should also be clear to everyone that had the US done so it would have been an upset of monumental proportions one I’ll bet none of you would have expected.

      • It might just mean JK felt the group “chemistry “ (whatever that means ) was better w/o LD there. The manager is responsible for the “team chemistry” so that is something he is better equipped to judge than you are. For you to advise a manager on his “team chemistry “ decisions is like you telling someone you are better equipped to judge who they should marry than they are.

        This is just another way of saying that the manager is always right.

      • LC,

        Actually, it means he is responsible.

        If the team chemistry works then okay.

        If it doesn’t then you fire him.

        If you don’t think the USMNT team chemistry is working then you should fire JK.

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