CHICAGO – At this point, any opposing argument is ludicrous. Landon Donovan is the best CONCACAF Gold Cup player of all-time.
He’s won four of the six tournaments in which he’s played (2002, 2005, 2007 and 2013), and scored in every last one of them. He’s the Gold Cup’s all-time leading goalscorer with 18, including five this time around to give him the share of the Golden Boot to go along with the Golden Ball given to the competition’s best player.
But is he a shoo-in to rejoin the United States national team in September, when Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad heads to Costa Rica before returning to Columbus for a second Hexagonal matchup against Mexico?
That remains a question for another day, no matter how much he looked like the irreplaceable player of old throughout July.
“The reality is – and it’s shown this tournament – that [Jurgen] makes decisions based on how you’re doing at the time,” Donovan said following the US’ 1-0 win over Panama in Sunday’s Gold Cup final. “… This is not the end. It’s the end of the tournament, but hopefully it’s just the beginning for a lot of us. We want to be a part of the bigger picture.”
And, make no mistake, Klinsmann would love Donovan to force his way into the World Cup qualifying picture. He just demands that every roster spot be earned, not by reputation or past performances – no matter how recent – but by what you can give today.
Still, even the German admits it will hard to keep Mr. 50-50 out of the squad in the near future despite his lofty expectations.
“It’s absolutely normal that there’s a high probability that he joins us for the September games,” Klinsmann said in the postgame press conference. “It’s absolutely a non-discussion. But he also knows that it’s always the present. It’s always about today and tomorrow. He took that very well. He accepted that role. He swallowed a couple pills, which is normal.”
But as it turns out, swallowing those pills may be exactly what’s allowed Donovan to return to the international stage with such aplomb.
Maybe now, after dominating all comers in the Gold Cup and putting himself in position to return to the World Cup qualifying team, Donovan’s much-discussed sabbatical can finally be put to rest.
“I wasn’t in a place to contribute then,” Donovan admitted. “I wanted to come back and contribute, so it feels good to help.”
And for the first time during this Gold Cup, Donovan’s contribution wasn’t measured on the score sheet.
He finished the tournament with five goals and seven assists, and even though he didn’t notch either against Panama, Donovan’s “mighty swing” and whiff allowed Brek Shea to slam the ball home at the back post instead of claiming the glory for himself.
And that’s just fine.
All that matters is Donovan’s having fun again. As he’s said time and time again this month, he’s enjoying himself. The game that lost its luster is no longer a burden, and both player and country are better for it.
“I’m really proud to be a part of what we’ve been through,” Donovan said. “As I get older, the things that matter to me are winning. When you look around and you see young kids holding the trophy and experiencing something for the first time, it makes me really happy.”