Recently, someone felt compelled to share their opinion of Landon Donovan with me.
"I don't think he's that great."
My friend seemed surprised. "I thought you believed Donovan was great - the best the U.S. has."
"Half-right," I responded. "I don't think he's great. I do think he's the best the U.S. has ever had."
I'm looking at the whole picture in this situation. Donovan doesn't really do one thing incredibly well. He does a lot of things reasonably well, and that adds up to him being the most versatile and beneficial performer the U.S. has ever had.
Technically, I believe Tab Ramos and John O'Brien to be Donovan's equal, if not superior to him. But neither had his quickness or goal-attacking ability. Also, neither was a consistently healthy performer for the U.S., which is where I'd knock down Claudio Reyna.
The competitive hunger of an Eric Wynalda or a Clint Dempsey I'd say also surpasses Donovan, but his cool head means that Donovan isn't getting red-carded out of World Cup games and he's generally the one that can be counted on to nail penalty shots.
At 25, Landon Donovan leads the national team in assists, goals and points. The players that follow him in these categories have more caps than he does.
Of course, people can say that Donovan has played against CONCACAF competition - yet so has everyone else on the U.S. team. Compared to another CONCACAF squad, well, Donovan has as many goals (34) as Cuauhtemoc Blanco (who incidently, didn't have a great overseas career, either), who is fourth on the all-time list for El Tri. Donovan and Blanco also have an equal number of World Cup goals (2).
Some say they can never consider Donovan great until he goes to play European club soccer. Ok, that's fine, but that's not looking at the situation objectively. That's evaluating on only one gradient, one in which Pele himself would be found lacking.
"Why don't you want Donovan to go overseas?" I was once asked.
"I don't really care one way or the other - but I have a hunch that it wouldn't make much difference," I responded. "It makes me laugh to see how many believe on faith that Donovan going to Europe will make him a much better player. I think he's too old for any huge developmental leap. He's probably about as good as he's going to get right now. He'll do well to just maintain his performance level."
To sum up - I think Donovan is as good as it gets in U.S. soccer. If it's not that great, that's as much everybody else's fault for not playing any better as it is his own for being the best the Americans have, without being much more than pretty darn good.