“GO GO U.S.A.”: Landon Donovan Saves the Yanks in 2010

Ninety minutes and forty-five seconds had ticked off the clock. The play began with Tim Howard catching a harmless shot off of the head of an Algerian forward. Sensing that time was of the essence, Howard sprinted to the top of his penalty area and unleashed a cannon of a throw that found the feet of United States legend Landon Donovan, who took a big touch out of his feet and quickly sprinted towards the undermanned Algerian defense. The counterattack seemed reminiscent of the lightning fast break by the Brazilians against England in 1970, except this time, there were not “seven guardians of the steel fortress,”[1] and just two men stood in the way of the flash of white streaking down the field.


The Algerian defense had proved nearly impenetrable throughout the group stage of Group C in the 2010 World Cup, conceding just a single goal in their previous two games against England and Slovenia. The United States had pushed the Algerians to their breaking point, hitting the crossbar at one point and having a goal called back for offsides at another. As Donovan sprinted up the field, the 35,000-plus in Pretoria held their breaths. Americans all around the world held their breaths. Donovan himself probably felt the crushing pressure of millions of eyes watching, having been a stalwart in the United States national team since the age of 17. This burden was compounded by the fact that he was widely criticized[2]for a fruitless performance in 2006 as the U.S. was eliminated in the group stage.


Despite the rapid pace at which he was moving, Donovan had the calmness to play the ball out to the right flank to the young Jozy Altidore. Altidore took just one touch, knocking the ball into the six-yard box where American legend Clint Dempsey had made an excellent run. Dempsey’s shot was smothered by the onrushing goalkeeper, and it appeared that another American attack had been quelled by the strong Algerians. But all was not lost: none other than Donovan himself had come charging into the box and coolly slotted the rebound into the lower left corner. The ball had “[seeked] him, [knew] him, and [needed] him,”[3] and it seemed destined that he would be the man to score after beginning the rush towards the net.


Donovan had continued his run all the way from midfield and did not stop even after scoring. He sprinted to the left corner flag with his arms raised while screaming at the top of his lungs. He knelt by the corner flag and was instantly mobbed by his teammates, simply laying down and taking in the moment.


Donovan’s elation seemed a cry of relief, as his international tenure with the red, white, and blue had been somewhat lacking after some initial success. Donovan had won Best Young Player of the 2002 World Cup[4], but had struggled to maintain a high level and provide the impact that many fans had hoped for since then. This goal was the culmination of Donovan’s service to the United States team, a crowning achievement of his already ten years in the program. It was also a validation of the improvement of Americans on the global soccer stage—Donovan had played most of his career in the oft-criticized MLS, and scoring this goal proved to many that Americans could and should be seen as legitimate contenders. It is still remembered today as perhaps his most iconic moment.


The final whistle blew just moments later. That was it. The United States had gotten over the hump and continued the dream.



Written by Kevin Winiarski


[1] Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow, (New York: Nation Books, 2009), 246

[2] Colin Stephenson, “After disappointment in 2006, American star Landon Donovan feels prepared for the World Cup,” NJ.com, May 19, 2010, https://www.nj.com/sports/index.ssf/2010/05/after_disappointment_of_2006_a.html

[3] Galeano, 2009, 24

[4] “2002 Landon Donovan (USA).” FIFA. 2010. Accessed February 14, 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20100612115110/http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/awards/bestyoungplayer/player%3D175507/index.html