Jeff Bradley: LA Galaxy's Landon Donovan still has plenty to prove in MLS
The first was, “Of course, he is.” Donovan long ago professed his love for Major League Soccer and the life he lives in sunny Southern California.
And, for as much as Donovan, now 31, has said recently he’s enjoying the game more than ever, it was hard to fathom he was enjoying it so much that he’d want to relocate somewhere across the pond or even across the border. So, nothing shocking there.
WATCH: Donovan's GotW candidate vs. 'Caps
The second reaction was, “Okay, then. What’s left for Donovan to prove in MLS?”
Let's address that second reaction in greater detail since it’s a much trickier topic. Because there’s a lot left for the greatest American player of all-time to prove. We’re not saying “has to prove,” but rather “still can prove.”
The greatest can become even greater. So here goes.
First of all, Donovan has a few statistical plateaus he can achieve in short order. Donovan is four goals away from passing Jeff Cunningham and becoming the league’s all-time leading goal scorer. He’ll check that one off the list soon, for sure. Still, it belongs on the to-do list.
Donovan is also just 21 assists shy of passing Steve Ralston as the league’s all-time leading assist man. His best single-season assist total was 16 in 2010, so if he (and a guy like Robbie Keane) remain in good form, that record could be his by the end of 2014.
Achieving those two statistical milestones is just a start for what Donovan can still prove. What else is there to do? Well, in soccer, it all begins and ends with winning. So, to that end…
Donovan needs one more MLS Cup title to become the league’s all-time leader in league titles won. Right now, Donovan, Jeff Agoos and Brian Mullan are tied at five rings apiece.
But it shouldn’t stop with MLS Cup trophies. If he can lead the Galaxy to the CONCACAF Champions League title, his portfolio gets even stronger. A tall order, no doubt. But if we’re making a laundry list of things still left to prove, that would be a good one.
WATCH: Donovan's hat trick vs. Dallas
One or two more US Open Cups, wouldn’t be a bad thing either. He can prove that trophy – which he has won just once – is worth fighting for.
Along those same lines Donovan can lead the Galaxy to their first Supporters' Shield in the post-Beckham era. That would be good for MLS, because it would quiet the talk that this is a league that only cares about the playoffs. Go prove something over an entire season.
While doing all of those things above, Donovan can also prove he’s still the best American player in MLS. We're talking about a head-to-head battle with Clint Dempsey. Has MLS ever had its own Larry Bird/Magic Johnson rivarly? Well, hopefully, it’s on.
Is that putting some pressure on Donovan and Dempsey? You bet. Hopefully, as competitors, this is what they signed up for. And, who knows, maybe the guy standing at the end of Donovan vs. Dempsey wins the captain’s armband for the US national team in Brazil.
Getting back on track, since Donovan’s here for the long haul now, and most likely until the end of his career, he can also prove he cares about helping the game after he's gone.
Before he took his three-month break from the game, he spoke about coaching kids and getting on television as an analyst, talking the game on a higher level to fans. While it would be silly to suggest he begin to do those things now, Donovan can certainly make himself more accessible than he was before his break. He doesn't need to be on Twitter 24/7, but one of the game's most articulate spokesmen needs to be heard from. When he speaks, people listen.
On the heels of the Dempsey announcement, Donovan's extension is simply huge for MLS. The two most important attacking players on the national team are now working at home. They've both stood up to critics who've suggested the best players need to play abroad.
It's an important stance, one that will surely be scrutinized as the U.S. national team wraps up qualifying and heads off to Brazil in 2014. All eyes will be on them.
There’s a lot to prove.