PORTLAND, Ore. — The moment felt predetermined.
Landon Donovan played just 23 minutes, but when he got on the end of a cross in the 70th minute of the MLS All-Star Game and slotted the game-winning goal past Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, the reaction of many observers was the same: Of course it was Donovan.
On a night the MLS was trying to put on a show against a Bayern Munich team featuring players who contributed to Germany's World Cup victory, Donovan delivered just as he always has for the U.S. men's national team and the league he helped to put on the map.
"I'm proud to be a part of this league," Donovan said. "And for many years, those of us that were in this league were sort of looked down upon for staying here and playing here. And this was a big moment."
Donovan, 32, announced on Thursday he will retire at the end of the 2014 MLS season after 14 years in the league. He will walk away from the game as the most influential player in U.S. soccer history.
His final all-star game most valuable player performance was a fitting one. It showed Donovan's on-field value, an uncanny knack for stepping up on the biggest stages when his star quality is needed the most and his class. He gracefully ceded the spotlight to New York Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry.
In the midst of a summer when those qualities felt questioned — Donovan was controversially left off the U.S. World Cup roster by coach Jurgen Klinsmann — the LA Galaxy forward provided another reminder of what has made him a special player in American soccer.
"I'm trying to enjoy myself," Donovan said in the postgame locker room on Wednesday night. "The summer was very tough for me, and I'm trying to enjoy playing. And in the last four games I've been a part of, I've thoroughly enjoyed [myself.] And I think when I enjoy it, I play better. So it was a good moment."
Donovan's influence was omnipresent at the all-star game.
At a time when many of the top American players headed to play in Europe, Donovan stayed in MLS and helped the game build a broader domestic audience. Donovan has scored a record 138 regular-season goals, won a record-tying five MLS Cup championships and has a record 22 MLS playoff goals. His 14 MLS All-Star selections are the most in league history, and his game-winner on Wednesday night set a record for most all-star goals with six.
Most important for the league, Donovan established a precedent for the very best in American soccer to stay at home and still have a great influence on the world stage. Donovan has the most goals (57) and assists (58) in U.S. soccer history, 18 and 36 more, respectively, than any other player, and has a record five World Cup goals in 12 appearances.
His influence could be felt with a simple glance around the locker room at Providence Park, at players like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, who came back to MLS from top European leagues, and Matt Besler and Longwood native Graham Zusi, who stayed despite more lucrative options abroad.
"He's a great guy," Bradley said after the game on Wednesday night. "He's over the years somebody who has been a great teammate to me, a great friend, and so I enjoy, whether it's in the national team or in a situation like this, the chance to spend some time with him. I'm certainly happy that he was able to get a big goal and it certainly doesn't surprise anybody."
After more than a decade as the face of U.S. soccer, Donovan wrote in a letter announcing his retirement that he was "excited to begin a new chapter and pursue other opportunities that will challenge me and allow me to grow as a person.
"I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to have played a role in the remarkable growth of MLS and US Soccer during my playing career. And while my career as a player will soon be over, rest assured I will stay connected on many levels to the beautiful game. As we enter a transformative time for the sport, I will do everything I can to help the continued growth of soccer in the United States."
Many believe Donovan's legacy alone will ensure his impact for generations to come.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun