JEFF PEARLMAN

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An icon arrives

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Sports icons usually arrive post-retirement. We can appreciate athletes during their careers; even recognize them as blessed talents. But, with rare exception, it is not until their runs are complete that we recognize their specialness. That they were not merely astonishing, but legendary.

Today, an icon arrives.

His name is Landon Donovan, American soccer player. With a game-winning goal against Algeria in the 91st minute of a scoreless game, Donovan has elevated soccer in this country to a new level. For the first time, people not only care deeply about the World Cup, but are starting to wonder whether the United States might (gasp) maybe … possibly … win it. That’s right—the United States is in a position to win the World Cup. Not a favored position, obviously. But our country has won its group and, were it not for a shitty call in the second game, would be 2-0-1.

Tim Howard, the U.S. goaltender, is terrific. Michael Bradley, the coach’s son, is gritty. Bob Bradley, the head coach, comes off as a soccer guru. But Donovan is transecndent. He’s not Alexi Lalas, an OK player best known for his hair. He’s not Cobi Jones, a marginal talent with a winning personality. He’s not Tony Meola, hard-headed and limited. Donovan is an American-born soccer superstar; one of the oh, 25 best players in the world and someone capable of starting for any team in the Cup. The naysayers who insist Donovan wouldn’t even make England’s roster? Wrong. Flat wrong.

The United States might not win again. They might lose 100-0. Doesn’t matter. Landon Donovan is 28-years old, (hopefully) with a long life ahead of him. He will enjoy the years knowing that he brought American soccer to a new level.

That he is an icon.