Los Angeles Soccer: Algeria
- Newsmakers/No. 1: Landon Donovan
America's biggest soccer star enjoyed his finest year in 2010.Landon Donovan offered compelling evidence that he, indeed, is suited for the rigors of the European game; followed his Major League Soccer MVP campaign with a more complete performance; and emerged as one of the stars of the World Cup.
The 28-year-old forward/midfielder from Redlands (Redlands East Valley HS) has been pegged as something special since his teens. He won the Golden Ball, as top player, at the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup, was part of the U.S.'s semifinal team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and was a pivotal figure as the Americans reached the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup, the furthest the U.S. has progressed on the game's biggest stage since reaching the semifinals in 1930 (an achievement not nearly as impressive).
But he's climbed new heights since a poor outing at the 2006 World Cup, maturing into a true leader, taking on responsibilities he once avoided while devoting himself to his craft. He's been MLS's best player, by a significant margin, ever since.
Doubts about how he'd fare in a top European league -- remnants of his failures at Bayer Leverkusen and a disappointing loan stretch with Bayern Munich in 2009 -- were gone after a superb 10-week stint on loan with Everton in the English Premier League to start the year. He scored twice in 13 games, won a club Player of the Month honor and had legions of fans begging him to stay in Liverpool -- or, at the least, return.
After winning MLS's scoring title in 2008 and MVP award in 2009, he had arguably his finest league campaign in 2010, stepping back into midfield, where he was needed, and playing chief provider (his 16 assists led the league) and making a massive impact defensively. He led the Galaxy to the Supporters' Shield (as regular-season champion) and within one win of a second successive MLS Cup title-game appearance.
His year primarily will be remembered for his play at the World Cup. He was the Americans' top player -- and one of the best attackers in the tournament -- with an all-around performance marked by goals to help the U.S. rally for a 2-2 draw with Slovenia, to beat Algeria in the dying moments (securing the Group C title and a round-of-16 berth), and to forge a tie with Ghana before succumbing in overtime.
Donovan's international totals: 45 goals and 45 assists -- both U.S. records -- in 128 appearances.
- Newsmakers/No. 5: Maurice Edu
It might have been the biggest moment in American soccer history, the point when everything -- the quality of the soccer, the loyalty of the fans -- came together in a way it didn't or couldn't with Paul Caligiuri's “shot heard 'round the world,” the 1994 World Cup, Brandi Chastain's bra or the 2002 quarterfinal run.
The goal Maurice Edu scored but did not count for the U.S. was the tipping point for the team at the World Cup.
It's Landon Donovan's strike, the one in stoppage to beat Algeria, that will forever be remembered, but Edu's goal five days earlier against Slovenia -- and Malian referee Koman Coulibaly's decision to omit it -- was the tipping point for the U.S. and the World Cup.
The Americans had started slowly, as they did throughout the Cup, and fallen behind, 2-0, by halftime. They halved the deficit just three minutes into the second half, with Donovan finishing from Steve Cherundolo's feed, and pulled even on Michael Bradley's goal in the 82nd minute.
Then Edu, making his World Cup debut, got on the end of a perfect Donovan free kick, and the U.S. was five minutes plus stoppage from a 3-2 victory. Except Koulibaly whistled for a foul nobody else could see.
The injustice of the moment rallied the fans at home, those fervently following the World Cup and casual observers who couldn't name a U.S. player, Donovan aside, perhaps. We had been wronged, and that self-identification with this U.S. team hit a crescendo when Donovan beat Algeria to give the Americans the Group C title and send them to the knockout phase. No telling how big it might have gotten had the U.S. beaten Ghana in the round of 16.
It was a breakthrough year for the Etiwanda High School alum. He emerged as a true contributor during Rangers FC's run to its 53rd Scottish league title, cemented his spot with the U.S. national team, and made a convincing argument that he's the best partner for Bradley in central midfield.