By Matt Brooks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 18, 2010; D02
It took Landon Donovan all of one moment to accomplish something U.S. soccer has worked tirelessly to achieve for decades. His game-winning goal in the first minute of added time to send the United States past Algeria last month and into the 2010 World Cup round of 16 catapulted the world's game into the collective consciousness of the nation.
Now, nearly a month after his rebound volley provided another step forward for his game in his country, Donovan returns to the pitch with the hope of carrying some momentum from that dramatic Cup run into Major League Soccer.
"I don't believe in coincidence," Donovan said Saturday as his Los Angeles Galaxy prepared to take on D.C. United on Sunday at RFK Stadium. "And I also don't believe success is an accident. So I think those things came together for a reason and culminated in that moment for me and also for our team. I think our team has done a lot of hard work over the last four years to put ourselves in that position."
Already considered a leader and one of the top talents on the national team and in MLS, Donovan's performance in South Africa has cemented him as the face of U.S. soccer.
Following a news conference Thursday to introduce French star Thierry Henry's signing with the New York Red Bulls, MLS Commissioner Don Garber discussed the importance of Donovan to the continued progression of the sport and why his greatest value remains on native soil.
"He's become a real soccer hero," Garber told reporters. "MLS needs soccer heroes, and we have a great American soccer hero playing for us in L.A., holding the torch for the sport in our country, and that's very important. I don't believe that it's something we can do without."
A successful 10-week stint with Everton of the English Premier League earlier this year bolstered Donovan's international appeal, piquing the interest of European clubs and adding fuel to the theory that American players may benefit more from playing in top European leagues than in their own backyard.
Nevertheless, Donovan, 28, appears willing to accept the responsibility placed on him by the league and is determined to help MLS continue to improve. In December, he signed a four-year contract to remain in the United States.
"I've always prided myself on the fact that I could stay here and help grow this sport here," he said. "Obviously I've taken criticism for that, but I love playing here, and I love this league.
"It's a little bit difficult at times because clearly every player at some point would want a chance to play at the highest level, in this case being the [English Premier League]. So there is a little bit of a struggle there with me thinking about all of it. But at this point, there's no need to worry about it. I can enjoy what I'm doing now and if something becomes a real possibility, that's fine."
Henry's arrival continues a trend of aging international stars joining MLS rosters, from England's David Beckham (35) to Mexican Cuauhtémoc Blanco (37) and Swede Freddie Ljungberg (33), and it's Donovan's hope that the big-name stars continue to cross the ocean to help draw the top Americans back to the league and facilitate the development of young talent with elite competition.
"It's a really big moment for our league," Donovan said of the arrival of Henry, who turns 33 next month. "He's a star and you can tell he's motivated and wants to be here and wants to do well here.
"We all want this league to compete with the other sports in our country. To do that you have to keep young, talented Americans here and you also have to bring in quality players that make the league better."
The national team's strong showing in South Africa will continue to further that aim, and Donovan's continued commitment to the league -- coupled with the lasting image of his memorable tally -- can only help MLS elevate its international image.
After returning home following their knockout-round defeat to Ghana, Donovan and several of his teammates were shown a widely popular video posted on YouTube.com that spliced live reactions to the game-winning goal against Algeria from around the world. Watching the video for the first time brought tears to the eyes of the players in the room, Donovan said.
"What I've realized more than anything is the power of a moment," Donovan said. "I'm a sports fan, and growing up, when you witness a special moment, you realize what it can do. One of those moments for me was watching Kirk Gibson hit that home run in the World Series as a Dodger fan. You'll always have that in your head. And I'm realizing now that I'm home that people have that memory and always will, of us beating Algeria and doing something special that hadn't been done in a really long time. It just shows you how powerful a moment in sports can be."