By Dave Johnson
Shortly after the United States secured passage to the second round of the World Cup with a 1-0 win over Algeria, Landon Donovans emotions were understandably overflowing. But in the minutes following the biggest moment of his career, Donovan's words - like his game winning goal - were precise and to the point.
Close to tears, Donovan told a FIFA post match interviewer, Its been a long journey.
Indeed its been a long journey for Donovan and for American soccer. It only makes sense then that U.S. Soccer is starting to truly blossom and show its full potential as Donovan is doing the same.
Donovan has been through a lot. On a personal side he had to deal with a divorce. On a professional side he had to deal with doubts. Donovan was always the best player in U.S. soccer to never have truly succeeded overseas.
In some ways he was like Phil Mickelson when Mickelson was the best golfer never to have won a major tournament. On golf's biggest stage, the 2004 Masters, Mickelson finally had his breakthrough. Now on world soccer's biggest stage, Donovan is crashing through professional barriers and taking U.S. soccer with him.
Last season, Donovan was finally named Most Valuable Player in Major League Soccer as he guided the L.A. Galaxy through early-season David Beckham absences and into the MLS Cup final.
Donovan then carried his domestic success overseas. In ten games with Everton in the English Premier League, Donovan netted two goals and instantly became a favorite with his teammates and Everton supporters. Donovan also earned Man of the Match honors for his performance in one of Everton's best results of the season, a 2-1 win over eventual EPL champion Chelsea.
In short Donovan had done it. Donovan proved, what we all thought, that he really could make it happen in one of the worlds biggest leagues. Remember Donovans success this past winter in England came after three failed attempts to make it in the German Bundesliga.
Donovans professional career started in 1999 at Bayer Leverkusen, but he failed to make any traction in Germany and returned home after two years. Disappointment was soon replaced by determination and Donovan helped the San Jose Earthquakes to two MLS Cup tiles.
There would be another chance for Donovan with Bayer Leverkusen and even a tryout with Bayern Munich, but once again success on the other side of the Atlantic remained elusive. There were whispers that maybe Donovan had the talent but not the fortitude to crack the big time.
Those whispers have been silenced and there is nothing but shouts of praise for Donovan and for U.S. soccer. Like he did on the game winning goal against Algeria, Donovan never stopped running, never stopped trying and in the end was rewarded.
Again its like American soccer. Donovan stayed the course and found success. Soccer in this country has had to deal with doubters and detractors as it has developed, but now the decades of hard work have paid off with a thriving professional league and the players who were nurtured in that league making the world take notice.
This is a far cry from the days when the U.S. National Teams preparation for games was basically to show up at the airport and get boarding passes. It's an even further cry from Paul Caliguiris amazing goal back in 1989 that clinched the United States' first World Cup berth in 40 years.
There were no viewing parties in the streets when Caliguiri launched that bomb against Trinidad and Tobago over twenty years ago. U.S. soccer was a lonely place then. It has plenty of friends now and there is every reason to believe many of those friends will stick around.