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Donovan's record-breaker right on time

5/26/2014

As Landon Donovan’s 135th career MLS goal settled into the net, the range of emotions he displayed seemed to encapsulate his week, his year, and his career.

One could see relief now that the gorilla that accompanied his quest was finally off his back. Then there was a primal scream that seemed to release some of the anger built up after he was sensationally left off the U.S. national team’s 23-man World Cup roster Thursday. There was gratitude at Robbie Keane’s unselfish pass, and his teammates' undoubted respect for everything that he’s done. And finally, bringing his hands to his face, a last surge of emotion at the enormity of his accomplishment, after which he was congratulated by the teammates and coaches on the L.A. Galaxy bench.

“It's been an emotional three days,” he told TWC Sportsnet afterward.

It was a goal that seemed to show off Donovan’s best qualities. On the surface, it looked like one of the great two-foot putts. But there was much more to the tally than the simple tap-in finish. It revealed Donovan’s ability to run with the ball at his feet, his dead-eye passing as he threaded a ball right into the path of Keane, and finally, his exquisite sense of timing to convert Keane’s return feed from close range.

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“Robbie [Keane] made a real concerted effort to get me a goal tonight and I'm forever indebted,” he told TWC Sportsnet. “And my teammates' response to all of it meant a lot to me, too.”

The sequence reminded me of a quote from 2010 by current Chicago Fire head coach Frank Yallop, who coached Donovan during stints in both San Jose and Los Angeles.

“Landon’s fantastic because he knows when to join the play and when not to,” he said back then. “He’s one of the best I’ve seen at arriving late and always at the right time and either finishing or sliding a guy in.”

Those are traits that have been on display since he scored his first MLS goal against New York -- and U.S. international teammate Tim Howard no less -- back on May 19, 2001. And he’s played with remarkable consistency since, despite missing loads of league matches over the years due to international commitments.

Yet on a night that saw Donovan take sole ownership of one of the most coveted milestones in MLS history, there was no escaping the pain of his World Cup snub, which is a shame. The moment deserved a 100 percent pure adrenaline rush devoid of recriminations, criticism, or what-ifs. Instead, it was tainted -- not completely mind you but contaminated nonetheless -- by one of the most wrenching moments of Donovan’s career.

Life isn’t scripted, as Donovan knows too well, given the personal and professional setbacks he’s experienced. Without question, he would have preferred to get the chase out of the way, either at the end of last season, or in the first seven games of the current campaign. It didn’t happen that way, and then, Donovan’s World Cup dreams were dashed. Given all that has transpired since the World Cup roster announcement, and given the frayed relationship between Donovan and national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, it seems unlikely that getting the goal earlier in the year would have made any difference as it related to the World Cup. That doesn’t make the sequence of events any less imperfect.

That said, perhaps it was fated to be this way. Another of Donovan’s best qualities has been his ability to shake off disappointment -- the 2006 World Cup springs to mind -- and emerge on the other side in a better place.

On Sunday night, it sure looked like that was the case.