Thursday, June 24, 2010

Landon's Life Goal

By now many of you have heard about and/or seen the most important goal in the history of American soccer during my lifetime:

I was lucky to have caught the goal from here live. We had just finished Wednesday Meditation at Madhu and Meghna's, and Tap and I switched on the TV to see if we could catch the game. We tuned into USA vs. Algeria in the 83rd minute. When I saw that the score was 0-0, I thought to myself, "perfect timing!" We probably hadn't missed much. Very quickly from the pace of the game (frenzied and intense) the gravity of the situation started to hit me. We had to score a goal to advance. "This is the most important 6 minutes of Landon Donovan's professional life", I declared aloud in the 84th minute.

Why did I single out Landon? Because he is the best soccer talent the US has ever home grown. Because he, more than any other, represents American soccer worldwide. For someone like myself, who spent probably 95% of my free time between ages 4-18 playing soccer, there is a bit of kinship there and a sense of vicarious living. Out of all us who played and loved this game, gave so much of ourselves to it, he was the chosen one, the best of all of us. He is carrying the torch, you just hope he does something great with it.

Up to this game Landon's career has widely been regarded as a disappointment. Such high hopes and expectations on his shoulders, and he hasn't quite delivered on the biggest stage. But after his historical ups and downs this goal happens and in one moment all those hopes and dreams are realized. The thing is, the goal itself was relatively simple. But all of the hard work and practice and toil of a lifetime, the preparation for game after game over an entire career, the development of instincts and feel for your teammates, all of that came to bear in that single moment. He knew what run to make when his goalie got the ball, he started the attack, and was in the exact perfect position to bury that goal. There was nothing easy about that goal, there was a lifetime of work that went into it.

I watched the goal and when it went in I jumped up with an "OHHHHH!", but I really didn't know what to do. It was a bit of a shock, it felt like a fairy tale. "Match winner", I thought to myself. He had done it. Then the team celebrating, then the final whistle and Landon kicking the ball into the stands, his teammates giving him more hugs and thanks. It was an incredible moment, I kept thinking about it that night and was on a high.

Next day I read the recap of the game and I found myself searching quickly for Landon's comments. What was going through his head at this point?
"This team embodies what the American spirit is about," Donovan said. "We had a goal disallowed the other night. We had another good goal disallowed tonight. But we just keep going. And I think that's what people admire so much about Americans. And I'm damn proud."

"The moment kind of slowed down for me. It was as much a reaction as anything," Donovan said. "I kind of hesitated. I didn't know if he was going to play it across the goal or try to cut it back to me. Once he played it in front of the goal, I didn't sprint, but I kept my run going and once it popped off the goalie, then I picked up a little to get there."

"... It's something I'll have imbedded in my mind forever."
I was hoping he would put the goal in perspective in terms of what it means for his career, but it didn't matter. As I was reading his words I looked down and noticed I had goosebumps on both my arms, and was getting chills. The reaction made me think that a hidden personal dream had come to the surface through this moment, maybe I played all those years to try and make it on that stage myself in that moment and make that play for my country. Not sure, but I was sure that Landon had done it now, and what I felt most was happiness for him.

Of all the friends I grew up with playing soccer, there are at least 3 who I know read this blog: Gene (played D-1 at UC Santa Barbara, helping to make it a top-5 national program), Nate (played D-1 at UCSB, then professionally in the US), and Pav (dominated California youth soccer for a 1-2 year stretch when we were about 14, the best athlete of South Asian decent I have ever played any sport with). Dudes, what was your reaction to this goal, what did it mean to you?

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