STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — His hairline has receded during 15 years in the spotlight, seeming to retreat at the same pace as his record-breaking scoring total advanced.
Landon Donovan first became widely known in 1999, when he was voted the golden ball as the best player of the FIFA Under-17 World Championship — an award later won by Cesc Fabregas, Anderson and Toni Kroos. In a soccer world where Americans were long looked at as non-entities, Donovan's success was startling.
He was 18 when he scored against Mexico in his U.S. national team debut and has 57 goals overall, 21 more than Clint Dempsey's second-place total.
Now 32, Donovan's spot in the starting lineup is no longer assured, perhaps not even his place on the 23-man roster. If Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley make it to Brazil next month, they could become the first Americans to play in four World Cups.
"This is my last chance at this," Donovan said Monday. "For me personally, I sort of liken it to 2002. In '06 and in 2010, I knew for the most part unless I was awful that I was going to make the team. This time is more similar to '02 where I wasn't sure. And so in that way, yes, it's as competitive as it's been for me personally in a long time."
He is for many the face of American soccer, the player who spent most of his career at home instead of finding fame in Europe.
Stints at Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich were unsuccessful, but he starred with the San Jose Earthquakes from 2001-04 and the Los Angeles Galaxy since 2005, winning five Major League Soccer titles and tying Jeff Cunningham for the regular-season goals record at 134.
But he's better known for his play with the national team, where his 156 appearances are eight shy of tying Cobi Jones' mark. Donovan has an American-record five World Cup goals, against Poland and Mexico in 2002, and versus Slovenia, Algeria and Ghana four years ago.
His stoppage-time goal against Les Fennecs at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld was one of the iconic moments in American soccer, alongside Paul Caligiuri's 1989 long-range strike at Trinidad and Tobago that put the U.S. in its first World Cup in 40 years and Eric Wynalda's free kick against Switzerland in the 1994 World Cup.
Just 5-foot-8, Donovan has created the tallest presence on the U.S. team. While some question his form — scoreless in seven games for the Galaxy this season — his national teammates are counting on his presence.
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