Landon Donovan is arguably the best American soccer player ever: a withdrawn forward with the skill to create for others and a leader on the field. In his career he has proven himself time and time again and despite some bumps in the road, he is the most influential player in both US Soccer and MLS history. As Donovan ends his retirement and returns to the LA Galaxy, let's review his already incredible 16-year career.
Getty ImagesGeorge Frey
First professional contract
Landon Donovan signed his first professional contract in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen in 1999. He signed a six-year contract with the club, but had trouble adapting to German culture, and spent most of his contract playing with the USA U-17 team. Still, he appeared 28 times with Leverkusen’s B side, scoring nine goals.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesSandra Behne
US Soccer career begins
His US Soccer career began at the youth level, where he spent two years with the U-17s and scored a total of 35 goals in 41 matches. Donovan also won the Golden Ball with the USA at the FIFA U-17 World Championship.
Getty ImagesPhil Walter
Beginning of MLS era
Unhappy in Germany, Leverkusen finally loaned him out to the Quakes, where he made an immediate impact. Donovan won his first MLS Cup in his first season – and it would not be his last.
Getty ImagesHarry How
World Cup debut
Donovan made his World Cup debut with the United States in 2002. The Stars and Stripes had one of their best Cups ever, falling to Germany in the quarterfinals. Donovan, now rising young star on the world stage, was named Best Young Player of the tournament.
AFP/Getty ImagesPASCAL GUYOT
2003 was a big year for Donovan: he won MLS Cup with the Earthquakes – including Man of the Match honors in the final – and was named US Soccer Athlete of the Year. Landon Donovan was quickly becoming a household name in America.
Getty ImagesJeff Gross
Back to MLS for good
After his loan ended with the Quakes, Landon played just seven matches for Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, telling the club that he wanted to return to MLS. Donovan signed with his hometown team, the LA Galaxy, in 2005 – winning his first MLS Cup with the club in his first season – and has been with the club ever since.
Getty ImagesStephen Dunn
Ups and downs
Donovan’s second World Cup in 2006 was far less successful than his first, as the USA went out in the group stage. Earlier in the year, Donovan had passed Eric Wynalda as the all-time assist leader for the Stars and Stripes. He still holds that record, though his tally now sits at 58 assists.
AFP/Getty ImagesKARIM JAAFAR
Clash of stars
Just as Donovan’s star was reaching a high, David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy. Suddenly Donovan was in the global superstar’s shadow, and was forced to give up his captaincy to Beckham. While Donovan led the team in scoring, it was the only season in his history with the Galaxy in which he failed to reach double-digit goals.
Getty ImagesJonathan Daniel
Donovan scored his 35th international goal on January 19th, 2008, a penalty against Sweden, becoming the USA’s all-time goal-scorer. He still holds that record, with a total of 57 international goals.
Getty ImagesVictor Decolongon
Short and not so sweet
Donovan returned to Germany for a short loan spell with Bayern Munich in 2009. But after just 11 appearances with the club, Bayern declined to extend his loan.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesAlexander Hassenstein
Toffee for life
Despite struggling to fit in with Bayern, Donovan was a good match for England’s Everton in the Premier League. He would complete two very successful spells with the club in 2010 and 2012, even declaring himself an “Evertonian for life.”
Getty ImagesAlex Livesey
The shining moment
This is quite possibly Landon Donovan’s most famous career moment: the goal heard round the world. The United States were minutes away from crashing out of the World Cup in the group stage for the second tournament in a row. Then Landon Donovan scored that goal against Algeria that you’ve probably seen at least a few dozen times. Of the many things Donovan will be remembered for, this goal stands above the rest.
AFP/Getty ImagesJEWEL SAMAD
In the history books
On August 1st, 2010 Donovan scored his 100th goal in Major League Soccer, cementing his name in the league’s history books forever. It certainly would be far from his last, as the MLS legend now sits atop the all-time goal-scoring list with 138.
Getty ImagesVictor Decolongon
At long last
After years of ups and downs with the Galaxy, Donovan and the club finally won their second MLS Cup together in 2011. Donovan scored the title-clinching goal, and was named MLS Cup MVP.
Getty ImagesVictor Decolongon
Just one year later, the Galaxy did it again. Donovan’s MLS Cup total is now at five, tying him for most-career MLS Cup wins.
Getty ImagesKevork Djansezian
Taking a step back
After the 2012 MLS Cup, Donovan decided to take some time away from the sport, saying he was mentally and physically exhausted. For a man who had played professionally since he was 18, and rarely had time off with national team duty and loan spells, it seemed that it was a much-needed break for the reflective Donovan. He traveled to Cambodia during his time away, and eventually rejoined the LA Galaxy in late March of 2013.
Getty ImagesMike Stobe
Back on top
If Donovan wanted a chance at making the 2014 World Cup roster, he had to have a stellar 2013 Gold Cup tournament. Donovan scored five goals in the tournament, and the USA won the whole thing. It seemed like Donovan was back on track and the World Cup the following summer was going to happen for him.
AFP/Getty ImagesTIMOTHY CLARY
Down and out
In what came as a shock to many, USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann left Donovan off the final 23-man roster for the USA’s World Cup in Brazil. The reaction among fans and media was split, while Donovan was expectedly deeply disappointed with the decision. He wasn’t shy of criticizing Klinsmann’s choice, but did support the team throughout the summer.
AFP/Getty ImagesJOSH EDELSON
Best of all time
Just three days after the roster devastation, Donovan finally broke Jeff Cunningham’s all-time MLS goal-scoring record of 134, notching two goals to bring his total to 136 (he now sits at 140).
Getty ImagesJeff Golden
In what would be Donovan’s final MLS All-Star Game, the striker scored the game-winning goal against none other than Bayern Munich. At the time, no one knew it would be his last ASG as the announcement of his retirement came the following day, but it seems a fitting way to go out.
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY SportsJaime Valdez
Retirement and unretirement
On August 7th, 2014, Landon Donovan announced he would be retiring from professional soccer at the end of the season. A little over two years later, on September 8, 2016, Donovan ended his retirement to rejoin the LA Galaxy for the final months of the regular season and the playoff run. Donovan said he hoped to aid the team he still so deeply cares about in their their quest for a record 6th MLS Cup.