According to Landon Donovan, of all the matches he played in, the ones that stood out the most to him as signature games, or his best games, were two in particular.
I was rereading his quotes and then I realized - he didn't score in either one. One game was even a loss.
Then again, it made sense. LD had always been about helping the team and scoring or creating assists was only part of that. Defending, holding the ball, making the smart pass, moving well into space, set plays, making the follow-up run - those are all key elements that often go unnoticed because they're not registered on any score sheet. But they're a vital part of the beautiful game.
Here's the first game LD mentioned as his best - 2002 against Germany.
2002 wasn't just notable for LD's good game - Tony Sanneh and others played their hearts out. There's a high that's only available in team games when a group effort elevates the whole and everyone is charged up to work for the end result together. The USA didn't quite pull it off, though.
Here's the other game LD mentioned - 2009 vs Spain.
Here LD was working with a whole new generation of players, but they were again linking up and putting in that extra effort to shock the world. This time, the team was successful, beating Spain off goals by Altidore and Dempsey. Donovan had matured into taking a more cautious role as Dempsey and others flew forward, but he still contributed all over the field, including a pass that Sergio Ramos cuts off and then is startled to have a persistent Dempsey poke the ball into goal anyway.
So these two were Donovan's signature matches - one ended in tears, the other in triumph. You take the good, you take the bad. . .
As I watch these two games again, is it nostalgia, or did the USA team look like a better, more cohesive squad in either match than in the entire 2014 World Cup? Honest question.