Landon Donovan, the biggest star in United States soccer history, has ended his stellar career the same way he lived it—as a champion. In true Donovan form, he brought his team to victory in dramatic fashion as his LA Galaxy team defeated the New England Revolution 2-1 in extra time, winning the Major League Soccer Championship.
While Donovan is beginning the next phase of his life, MLS and Team USA must replace the biggest star in United States soccer history. Donovan turned pro when he was only seventeen, and was named the Best Young Player of the Tournament in the 2002 World Cup. He is also team USA’s all- time leading scorer, has won six MLS Cups, was the 2009 MLS MVP, and is a two-time MLS All-Star Game MVP.
Donovan’s true impact, though, will be felt off the pitch. When he came to the MLS, it was a struggling league with only ten teams. Hardly anyone went to go see the games, and the teams shared stadiums. This was due largely in part to lack of star power, since all the big names went to play in Europe.Donovan bucked that trend, and decided to play in front of his home country fans. The popularity of the game in the United States grew behind its biggest star, and soon David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and other icons of the game jumped the pond to play in America.
Today the MLS boasts twenty teams (soon twenty-two) and is set to sign a lucrative multi-million dollar television deal. Donovan stepping down and the success of the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup has opened the door for the next big star to carry United States soccer to another level. Somewhere, the next LeBron James or Kevin Durant is going to pick up a soccer ball instead of a basketball and a new legend may be born.
As for Donovan, he is very happy with his decision to retire. “It’s a dream to finish like this. For me, it’s perfect. All my family, more than eighty of my friends and family, were in the stadium and it’s a perfect day because they know what we have gone through in the last sixteen years—and all are very happy.”