The U.S. Men’s National Team (MNT) started off the 2008 schedule in historic fashion. Not only did the MNT, playing in its 500th international match, knock off a decent Swedish squad 2-0, but Landon Donovan passed Eric Wynalda to become the all-time leading goal scorer in MNT history when he notched his 35th career interntional goal.
Donovan’s record came after Jozy Altidore drew a penalty in the box early in the second-half. At a mere twenty-five years of age, Donovan will likely be able to extensively widen the goal gap between he and Wynalda before his international playing days are over. Interestingly, Donovan is also the MNT’s all-time assist leader. As the holder of both records, one could have difficulty denying that Donovan is one of the greatest players to ever take the pitch for the MNT.
Yet, Donovan has been criticized by many involved in international soccer for returning to the U.S. after failing to succeed as a professional abroad. In fact, many critics argued that he could not play at the European level after he returned to the U.S. from Bayer Leverkusen. Donovan himself did little to quiet his critics when he performed below par at the U.S.’s disappointing 2006 World Cup.
However, since that time, Donovan has shown new maturity which will hopefully result into his blossoming into a more complete player. This new maturity has been exhibited not only on the field, but also off it. Last season, Donovan even ceded the captain’s armband to David Beckham upon his arrival in L.A. A younger Donovan might have demanded that he remain captain and his attitude could have isolated Beckham from the rest of the team. Instead, Donovan embraced Beckham, and though Beckham’s play was limited last season, when he was on the pitch he and Donovan exhibited a knack for creating scoring opportunities together.
Other MNT members may not have made history against Sweden like Donovan, but they certainly solidified their place on the MNT with their tactical play. Altidore, in addition to drawing the penalty that secured the record for Donovan, was clearly the catalyst for the MNT offense in the second half. In fact, if Altidore and Freddy Adu establish themselves as MNT starters, the team could become something it has never been before: an offensive juggernaut. Meanwhile, Brad Guzan was flawless in goal and his heroic performance surely made the international clubs bent on signing him, including Fulham, salivate with glee. Finally, Eddie Robinson scored his first goal for the MNT and, other than a miscue on defense that almost cost the U.S. a goal, played remarkably well for someone making his first international start at age twenty-nine.
The U.S. next will play arch-rival Mexico in February.