It’s been ten years since the US Men’s National Team’s “Golden Goal” in the 2010 World Cup. Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria excited a nation and rescued US fortunes in South Africa. The goal steadied an up-and-down performance in Group C, highlighted by drawing 1-1 with England. It ultimately secured the USMNT a 1-0 victory as they found themselves topping a World Cup group for the first time since 1930. Not only that, but his goal also incited an optimism that would permeate USMNT fans for most of the 2010s.
“Go, Go, USA!”
Before Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria produced Ian Darke’s famous above call, the US was out of the tournament. After their draw against England, coach Bob Bradley’s US team disappointingly drew against inferior Slovenia 2-2. Consequently, entering stoppage time against Algeria and deadlocked at 0-0, the US would have three points if the result was another draw. Despite England winning against Slovenia 1-0, Slovenia had beaten Algeria and would have four points, besting the US. Donovan knew, as did his teammates, a draw wouldn’t get them through and they needed a goal.
Entering stoppage time, it seemed too little, too late for the US squad. Despite dominating the majority of the game, they still hadn’t managed to find the back of the net. Near-misses by Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore proved costly and time was running out. Algeria buckled down their already staunch defense and it looked hopeless.
But, as the English idiom goes, “cometh the hour, cometh the man,”. After a perfectly executed outlet ball from goalkeeper Tim Howard, Donovan sprinted up the field on a break. Finding Altidore, Donovan laid off the ball for the big US forward to bring the ball in the box. Altidore crossed to Dempsey, only to be denied a goal again by a save from Algerian keeper Raïs M’Bolhi. However, Dempsey got a toe on the ball and it trickled away from M’Bohli. It set things up perfectly for Donovan to slot the ball home from six yards out, propelling the US into dreamland. The ensuing pandemonium was punctuated by Ian Darke’s commentary and the US squad piling on top of Donovan at the corner flag.
“It is breathtakingly exciting!”
Donovan’s goal proved the culmination of building excitement around not only him but USMNT prospects on the world stage. Donovan was a part of the team that made it to the quarterfinals in 2002. Plus, he received the Best Young Player honor for the 2002 tournament. There was no other player who could have scored the winner against Algeria. It was kismet and fans began to believe the USMNT’s soccer fortunes were on the rise. So much so, the now-famous “I Believe That We Will Win” chant was picked up by the American Outlaws. The US National Team supporters group were first heard chanting it in Kansas City in 2011 and it became the mantra of US hopes for the World Cup.
Interest in Soccer Grows in the US After Donovan’s Goal
Interest in US soccer grew by leaps and bounds, at home and abroad. Stars Donovan, Dempsey, Altidore, Howard, defender Geoff Cameron, and keeper Brad Guzan all played in the English Premier League. Other players like Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, and Steve Cherundolo plied their trade in other top European Leagues. They were a savvy group of budding veterans working hard in big, international leagues and would start to draw more domestic attention.
Immediately following the 2010 World Cup, attendance at USMNT soccer games rose by 12.5%. The growing interest and popularity in US soccer directly correlated with the rise of the previously mentioned American Outlaws. Founded in 2007 and taking a small contingent to the 2010 World Cup, chapters of the supporters began to spring up only weeks after Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria. In the fall of 2013, there were 100 chapters of the American Outlaws and by the end of 2014, there were 150. The US Women’s team, incredibly more successful than their male counterparts, also saw an increase in attendance and interest.
In addition to Americans coming out to watch USMNT games, the MLS began to take big strides in the post-2010 wake of excitement. Helped by Donovan playing for the MLS team LA Galaxy at the time, along with international superstar and present-day MLS-owner David Beckham, the relevance of soccer in the US exploded. By 2011, MLS had unseated the NHL and NBA as the third-most attended sports league in America. This growing US consciousness of soccer would slowly start to bring USMNT veterans to finish out or extend their playing careers with MLS teams.
Optimism Reigns Among Fans, But Gives Way To Reality
Optimism would reach a fever pitch at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The American Outlaws organized massive watch parties in major hubs of soccer fandom (Kansas City, D.C., Chicago, and Dallas being the biggest) and 550 members traveled to Brazil. The US sported their incredible “Bomb Pop” jersey and it seemed like nothing could stop them.
During and between the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, the US had begun to believe winning could become a reality.
And yet, for all the optimism and growth with the US soccer game, the results against other teams couldn’t be denied. In CONCACAF, the North and Central American federation of soccer, the US did okay. They won the Gold Cup in 2013 but lost in the final in 2011 to Mexico and took fourth in 2015. Against International competition, highlights included wins against Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, but it was often against teams that were minus their big stars. Their biggest accomplishment was in 2016 in the Copa América where they finished fourth against big teams like Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia.
Throughout the decade, there was always a thread of hope but the results slowly began to stack against the US team. The dream of the US storming world football gave way to reality. The USMNT struggled through qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Jürgen Klinsmann, the controversial coach trying to infuse new, international youth into the veteran squad, was fired and replaced by previous USMNT coach Bruce Arena. His second stint was uninspired and tactically listless and seemed to lead to a fracture in the squad. Results still remained poor, criticisms mounted, and culminated in the miserable night of October 10th, 2017. The US lost to lowly Trinidad & Tobago and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
The once high-flying confidence of US soccer fans crash-landed in the muddy pitch of Ato Boldon Stadium.
Landon Donovan’s “Golden Goal” Remains
Despite the disappointments that the second half of the 2010s brought, optimism remains. Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria remains a rallying point for US ambition. As a catalytic moment, it made soccer relevant enough for this article to exist and reflect fondly. Without Donovan’s goal to propel the US into the knockout stages, it would have been another disappointment,like 2006 in Germany, and a step back from their quarterfinal finish in 2002.
As a nostalgic consideration, it recalls a pure moment of joy capturing what the sport is all about. Many US fans return to highlights of Donovan’s goal as a way to remember fondly what it meant and what it continues to mean. If a US team that goes out in the Round of 16 can manage to grab the collective consciousness of fandom, what is to stop our current crop of stars from doing it again?
As the world, hopefully, begins to return to normal, US soccer fans can dare to dream. With new stars like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest, and Gio Reyna, why can’t 2022 be a year for growing ambition, and 2026 on North American soil be an apex for US soccer achievement? One can dare to dream: another “golden goal” awaits.