It took Landon Donovan a little longer than the USA talisman probably would have liked, but the American international finally surpassed Jeff Cunningham’s all-time Major League Soccer (MLS) scoring mark on Sunday when he netted what would prove to be the game-winner for LA Galaxy in their 4-1 win over Philadelphia Union. The timing of his record goal – coming in Donovan’s first match with Galaxy since being omitted from USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ squad – has undoubtedly made the achievement even more significant and emotional for Donovan as he etches his name once again into the MLS record books.
Cunningham established his record of 134 career MLS goals in 2011, during his second stint with Columbus Crew. Donovan reached Cunningham’s mark with a brace against rivals Chivas USA on 7 October 2013, but in the three remaining matches of the campaign he could not take the all-time scoring record outright. After a 1-1 draw at Seattle Sounders, Donovan told FIFA.com he was not concerned with the record looming just out of reach. “It doesn’t even cross my mind,” he explained, instead choosing to focus on Galaxy’s pending post-season.
The start of the 2014 season refreshed the buzz surrounding the scoring record, but Donovan was unable to find a goal in his first six league outings, either. Away at USA’s pre-Brazil 2014 training camp at Stanford University, Donovan missed another two league matches before being released by Klinsmann earlier this week. Then, in front of a capacity home crowd at the StubHub Centre the Galaxy No10 calmly finished the rebound given up by Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath when he could not hold onto Robbie Keane’s initial attempt.
Donovan finished the game with two goals, scoring late to put the match out of reach and bringing his record total up to 136. Speaking after game, Donovan described the relief of finally surpassing Cunningham’s record and taking sole ownership of the league’s all-time scoring mark that the American icon seemed destined to achieve. "Well, it's been a while so there are a lot of emotions," Donovan told Time Warner Cable Sportsnet. "Just getting on the scoreboard again was nice. Hitting the net was nice. Getting the 135 on the back of what happened this week. It was a good feeling."
At times, it is hard to believe Donovan has been in Major League Soccer long enough to score 135 goals, especially considering his versatility as a midfielder and forward who has a penchant for setting up team-mates, such as Republic of Ireland striker Keane, to score rather than finishing off an attack himself. The American international is in his 14th season in his native country’s top flight, however, having spent four years with San Jose Earthquakes before moving to southern California and offering his services to LA Galaxy.
Landon leading the way
Along the way to Sunday’s milestone achievement, Donovan has been unable to stop setting records, earning awards and reaching new heights for American footballers. Recently named to the MLS all-time best XI, Donovan has also been included in six MLS season best XI squads. He has won two MLS Cup Most Valuable Player awards, and earned the league’s MVP nod in 2009 – the year where he also scored the season’s best goal, a wonderfully struck left-footed volley from outside the New England Revolution penalty area that left goalkeeper Matt Reis no chance.
On the international level, Donovan has been named United States Soccer Federation Athlete of the Year four times, most recently in 2010 after he led the Stars and Stripes into the Round of 16 at South Africa 2010. He is no stranger to scoring records for USA, either, as the Ontario, California native is the all-time leading scorer for the red, white and blue.
Speaking like the seasoned veteran he is, Donovan reflected on his path to reaching his record-setting goal and the added, albeit unintentional, emotion of reaching the milestone shortly after the disappointment of missing out on his fourth World Cup. "For a long part of my childhood there was no MLS and when I started watching, it was a dream just to be a professional, having the opportunity to play this many years and play with some wonderful team-mates," Donovan said.
"Robbie (Keane) made a real concerted effort to get me a goal tonight and I'm forever indebted," Donovan humbly added. "And my team-mates response to all of it meant a lot to me, too. These are my family members, my brothers. And I could see in their eyes yesterday how hurt they were. And I'm just glad I could come back and contribute and help out."
Although Donovan is not in Klinsmann’s plans for Brazil, the three-time World Cup veteran has long been established as one of America’s most relied upon superstars and his impressive history of breaking records demonstrates this is a player who can consistently produce for both club and country. And while Donovan may not be concerned with the significance behind becoming Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer, Galaxy supporters will surely be glad the 32-year-old is as prolific in front of goal today as he was when he broke into the league in 2001.