There’s a certain amount of popularity that is accrued in a very public rejection. Call it the presidential loser effect. Dignified humiliation evokes tenderness in the American heart. Bob Dole parlayed this into a bunch of TV ads, plaintively moaning in one, “I just can’t win.” Al Gore grew an unemployed-dad beard. The documentary “Mitt” made Mitt Romney seem like a pretty stand-up guy who prays a lot.
Landon Donovan, the greatest soccer player the United States has ever produced, is today experiencing a popularity born of rejection. On May 22, just weeks before the World Cup, 32-year-old Donovan was cut from the team despite the fact that he’s scored more goals and had more assists than anyone in team history.
Donovan, who scored a last-minute goal in the 2010 Cup in South Africa, got on the outs with the new team coach. Jurgen Klinsmann had questioned whether Donovan’s skills had diminished and he still had the fire he once had. “Soccer is about what you do today and what you hopefully do tomorrow,” the New York Times quoted Klinsmann saying. “We’re not building the group based on the past.”
Some on the team mourned the decision. “For me it’s a very easy equation,” goalkeeper Tim Howard told the Los Angeles Times days before the U.S. beat Ghana 2-1. “If Landon’s on the field he’s among our top one or two players.”
Donovan said in a Facebook statement, which collected 64,000 likes, that it “had been an honor and privilege to have represented the U.S. national team in three World Cups.” Then he acknowledged it “has all been pretty disappointing.”
But then a very modern phenomenon took hold. At a moment when Donovan ought to be at his lowest, his phone started ringing. He got a spot in a slick EA Sports commercial, in which he danced around in a robe and USA slippers before beginning to play soccer — as himself — in a video game called 2014 FIFA World Cup. “I’m not going to Brazil,” he sang in the commercial, released on Monday.
The press was in love. “Landon Donovan proves he’s a seriously good sport after World Cup Snub,” Huffington Post sang. “Who needs Brazil when you can trade in soccer cleats for fuzzy slippers?” Mashable added. “Landon Donovan will be trending in 3…2…1…,” CBS said.
His dismissal has afforded the Twitterati an opportunity to dream up romanticized, counterfactual scenarios: What if Landon Donovan was playing? What would happen? “Landon Donovan off the bench wouldn’t look so bad right now, would it?” Good Morning America tweeted.
But even if that hasn’t happened, Donovan hasn’t been far from the happenings. He’s still on ESPN — but as a commentator, delivering some truly awkward performances. “Listening to Landon Donovan talking about ‘the American spirit’ on ESPN is slightly more painful than my last ER visit,” one person commented.
So he’s not a TV guy. The press nonetheless continued to lionize him. “Landon Donovan: Should Win World Cup For Coolest Athlete,” the Inquisitr wrote.