With success of recent expansion, MLS keeps growing beyond original goal.
It Seems To Me. . .
Retirements of Donovan, Cherundolo bring end of U.S. soccer era.
By Robert Wagman
(Monday, August 25, 2014) -- This is truly the end of an era for American soccer. With the retirements of Steve Cherundolo and Landon Donovan, the best defender and the best attacker of their generation are leaving the scene. We need to spend a few moments reflecting on what the two have meant to United States soccer.
In March, after two major knee reconstructions in the past two years, Cherundolo announced his retirement as a player. Affectionately known as the "Mayor of Hannover," Cherundolo spent his professional entire career playing for Hannover 96 in the German Bundesliga.
The 35-year-old, who was born in Rockford, Ill., and grew up in the San Diego. He played two years for the University of Portland before leaving college to sign with Hannover in 1999. At the time, Hannover was in the second-division 2. Bundesliga. Three years later, it earned promotion to the top flight, where it has stayed since.
Cherundolo finished his career with 415 appearances with Hannover in all competitions, including a club record 302 appearances in the Bundesliga. He served as the Reds' captain from 2010 through his retirement. He had the 15th-longest tenure with a single team since the Bundesliga was founded in 1963.
The right back was a fixture on the U.S. men. He debuted against Jamaica in September 1999 and had a central role in the American defense over the rest of his career. He was a part of the 2002, 2006 and 2010 U.S. World Cup squads, making 26 appearances for in World Cup qualifying and playing in both the 2005 and 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cups.
In all, Cherundolo amassed 87 international appearances, 19th among American men. His last cap for the national team came in a 3-1 World Cup qualifying victory over Guatemala in October 2012.
Two of Cherundolo's greatest moments came while playing for the U.S. There was the 75-yard goal on March 22, 2006, against Germany, the game-winner in the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup, when his long-range effort bounced into the net after U.S. striker forward Eddie Johnson and Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn collided.
Much more important was the perfect pass that sprang Landon Donovan in on goal for the finish that sparked the the Americans' comeback in the 2-2 draw against Slovenia in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, sending the U.S. to the Round of 16.
Recently, he received a singular honor, a 30-minute tribute match played prior to a Hannover friendly against visiting Lazio of Italy, featuring some of Cherundolo's former teammates and some local celebrities. He played 15 minutes on both teams and even refereed for a few minutes while playing. Following the match, he took a victory lap around the stadium while "Surfin' USA" by the Beach Boys played over the PA system. The large crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Upon his retirement, U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann said via Twiiter: "Congrats to #USMNT Steve Cherundolo on an amazing career. A true professional and a great role model for our future players. Viel Glück!!"
Cherundolo remains at Hannover, currently coaching the youth team and assisting with the under-23 team. It is understood that some day he will coach for first team.
You can debate whether Landon Donovan is the best U.S. player ever, but there can be little debate that on several levels he is the most important, most influential American ever to play soccer in this country.
Remember back to 1998. U.S. soccer was in disarray. They U.S. team had all but disintegrated at the 1998 World Cup. The team was going forward without any players of distinction, but at the same time, the first-class under-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla., was coming out. The star of what would become a very distinguished group was Donovan, who went on win the Golden Ball as the most valuable player at the 1999 Under-17 World Cup. The U.S. finished fourth.
He quickly became the face of American soccer. He signed with German club Bayer Leverkusen at age 17 and played a year with the reserve team before coming back to the U.S. to join Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes, for whom he played for four seasons. In two of those seasons, led by Donovan, the Earthquakes won the MLS Cup title. He also was perhaps the outstanding player on the U.S. World Cup team in 2002 and scored the winning goal against Mexico, sending the Americans through to the quarterfinals.
After four years with the Earthquakes, Donovan moved to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2005 for the next 10.
At the time, MLS was still a shaky proposition, but after the excitement of that 2002 World Cup, the league attracted new money and stabilized. Donovan was named U.S. Soccer "Male Athlete of the Year" four times (2003-04, 2009-10). His presence in MLS went a long way to raising the league in the view of both fans and sponsors.
MLS commissioner Don Garber recognized this upon Donovan's retirement announcement. "There is no doubt that Major League Soccer would not be what it is today without Landon Donovan," he said. "His decision to join MLS in 2001 was a statement to the entire soccer community, at the most crucial time in our history, that MLS could be a league of choice for the best American players. Landon is to MLS, what Michael Jordan was to the (National Basketball Association). Wayne Gretzky was to the (National Hockey League) and Tiger Woods was to the PGA Tour, a player who's sporting accomplishments and popularity transformed their respective leagues and set a new standard for how the game would be played."
After the 2008 MLS season, Donovan traveled again to Germany, this time to join Bayern Munich on loan until the start of the 2009 MLS season. With Bayern, Donovan appeared in five friendly matches -- in which he scored four goals -- five league games, and one DFB Pokal (German) Cup match. But in the end, the Bayern coach, Klinsmann, declined to extend the loan, saying Donovan had let him down.
Look at Donovan's numbers and his accolades.
He has scored an MLS-record 140 goals and notched 126 assists. Those numbers will rise before the end of the current MLS season. His teams have won five MLS Cups (2001, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2012), a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (2005) and two MLS Supporters' Shields (2010, 2011) for the team with the best overall record.
Individually, he has been named to an record 14 consecutive MLS All-Star games (2001-2014), the MLS Best XI six times (2003, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), the MLS "Most Valuable Player" (2009) and won the Golden Boot (2008), as well as being the only two-time MLS Cup MVP winner (2003, 2011).
Donovan is also the leading scorer in MLS playoff history with 22 goals. He is also the leading scorer in MLS All-Star history (six goals) and has been named All-Star MVP twice (2001, 2014).
Donovan's 156 international appearances for the U.S. men are second-most all time (Cobi Jones has 164). He leads all scorers in U.S. history, both in goals (57) and assists (58). He is the only American player to surpass both 50 goals and 50 assists in his career.
In June of 2008, he became the fastest American to ever earn 100 caps and the fourth fastest player in history to play in 100 matches for his country. His five goals in three World Cups are the most by any American player.
Donovan has been named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year a record four times (2003, 2004, 2009, 2010), FIFA's Best Young Player of the World Cup (2002), the CONCACAF Gold Cup MVP (2013) and to the Gold Cup Best XI four times (2002, 2003, 2005, 2013). Additionally, he is the all-time leading scorer in the CONCACAF Gold Cup with 18 goals, helped the U.S. to four of its five ever Gold Cup titles (2002, 2005, 2007, 2013).
"When the story of the growth of U.S. Soccer is told, Landon Donovan will be one of the central figures," U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said. "As a player, and as an ambassador, he is incredibly committed to the growth of the sport in this country. Landon achieved unprecedented success as he emerged as the face of U.S. Soccer and helped bring the game to another level. His extraordinary accomplishments on the field are admired and respected both here and abroad. We look forward to celebrating his legacy."
Donovan is still only 32 and is still near the top of his game, witness his winning goal in defeating Bayern Munich 2-1 in this year's MLS All-Star game. With two of Germany's top defenders hanging on him, he completed a long run by blasting the ball past Bayern and Germany's top goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
He obviously could play more years, but with a future on the national team precluded by Klinsmann, with little more to prove on a rebuilding Galaxy team and having spent half his life at the top level of the sport in this country, it was a logical time to hang it up.