“Donovan has scored! Oh, can you believe this? Go, go, USA! Certainly though! Oh, it’s incredible! You could not write a script like this.”
Goosebumps? Yes. Iconic? An understatement.
Four years later and Ian Darke’s echoing broadcast still oozes red, white, and blue. Everyone remembers his or her exact location on the morning of June 23, 2010. Landon Donovan, the bona fide face of American soccer over the last decade, single-handedly (or footedly I should say) cemented his legacy forever in the lure of American sports with a single go-ahead goal to defeat Algeria in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. A perfect ending fitted only for the beautiful game’s greatest stage. One couldn’t write a better script.
What happens to a hero after he rides off into the sunset? He has to return… doesn’t he always? Four years later, the sun rises over the horizon of U.S. soccer.
But where’s the hero?
When United States head coach Jürgen Klinsmann finalized the twenty-three man roster for the 2014 World Cup, Donovan’s name was nowhere to be seen.
To many, the move made sense. Sure, the 32-year-old Galaxy star still produced at a high level. According to ESPN, Donovan remained an efficient playmaker for the national team, setting up countless goal opportunities for the likes of Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.
However, not even the mightiest of heroes intimidate Father Time. Donovan no longer has the capacity to play at an elite level consistently in the MLS, let alone internationally. During the World Cup, Team USA needs every player to play at an elite level for a full 90 minutes. It’s the only way to produce the slightest competition against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar, David Villa, or Ozil. Anything less means failure. At the end of a match, five or ten minutes fills the ever-narrowing gap between the bliss of victory and the agony of defeat. Hell, Donovan proved this to an entire nation four, long years ago.
With that said, one needs to re-evaluate the scenario at hand and put oneself in Klinsmann’s shoes. Donovan produces at an elite level for about 60 minutes, not in the English Premier League, but the embryonic MLS. A roster spot for Donovan robs an opportunity for a player such as Julian Green—the 18-year-old Bayern Munich striker poised to one day accept the torch from Donovan. Perhaps Klinsmann envisioned an earlier date than most expected.
How does one replace a legend? Well, for those with good enough memories, BC experienced a similar divorce with basketball coach Al Skinner.
In 2001, Skinner led the men’s basketball team to the Big East regular season title. He offered the team a brief, shining moment of optimism. Like lightning in a bottle, he held Chestnut Hill captive for over a decade. In 2005, Skinner won the Big East coach of the year award, at one point leading the Eagles to no. 3 in the AP national rankings. By 2006, Skinner surpassed the all-time wins mark by any BC men’s basketball coach. He seemed untouchable—the long-awaited messiah of a program forgotten and pronounced dead.
Each time Skinner, the Heights’ very-own Landon Donovan, led BC to the Promised Land of the NCAA tournament, he tragically fell short. As if pushing Sisyphus’ rock, the more Skinner won and tragically crumbled, his unbearable expectations mounted larger and larger. Eventually, time-ran out for Skinner to pull through. His Eagles team never made it past the Sweet Sixteen before his eventual firing in 2010.
The rest remains history, one too tragic to be true. Following Skinner’s ultimate BC blowoff, Cornell’s Steve Donahue took over and the program never regained its national credibility, finishing in the basement of the ACC for the last three seasons.
Only time will tell if Donovan’s blowoff parallels the fate of Skinner’s firing. For the sake of American soccer, Klinsmann best pray that his intuition be correct. If not, the United States risks a drought far greater than any collegiate basketball program could afford.
Four years mean an eternity in soccer. However, only the World Cup answers any questions culminated within the span of those years. Will a hero emerge to guide the Americans to past mediocrity. Or, like Skinner, has the hero lived too long and become the villain?
On June 16, the answers arrive against Ghana.
Follow @BCGavelSports for the latest updates on Boston College athletics.