Landon Donovan’s four-step guide to becoming a World Cup hero

AL RAYYAN, Qatar – If the United States’ World Cup adventure is to survive after Tuesday evening, a number of things are needed.

A win – of course – and no other outcome. A goal – obviously – because you can’t win without scoring one. And a hero – or heroes – willing to seize the day and change their lives forever.

That is what is needed when the US is facing Iran on Tuesday at Al Thumama Stadium in a win-or-go-home third match of Group B (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

Football is about big moments, when an individual gives a snapshot of inspiration that changes everything. Whoever it is for the US, it’s realistic to assume that there could be things in their future like a talk show appearance, a Wheaties box cover, and an eternal position as a beloved figure in American football circles.

Landon Donovan knows what it’s like to be the man of the hour. He scored the most spectacular goal in American men’s soccer history, a special match against Algeria in 2010 to secure a spot in the knockout round and avoid elimination.

Tim Howard remembers Landon Donovan’s legendary goal

Tim Howard remembers Landon Donovan's legendary goal

Former USMNT goaltender Tim Howard returns for the most famous goal in American football history, Landon Donovan’s game-winner against Algeria in 2010.

Now a FOX Sports World Cup analyst, Donovan walked us through a four-point plan on how each of Gregg Berhalter’s young squad can find their own piece of magic and how to handle it when the opportunity arises.

It’s not a foolproof blueprint, because there’s no such thing at the most competitive tournament in sport.

But when fate beckons, the likes of Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah and Captain Tyler Adams would do well to take the advice… of a man who knows.

Step 1: Pre-match balance to prepare for the offspring

“The best thing is that you know you have to win,” Donovan told me. “That’s the ‘easy’ part, if there is such a thing. If there’s any ambiguity and you have to worry about what’s happening elsewhere, things can get a little more complicated.”

In 2010, things were not so clear for the US. Heading into the game, there were still scenarios where a draw could be good enough to go through. When Jermain Defoe scored for England against Slovenia, the picture became a little clearer. Victory was necessary.

“In the (2022) situation, everything goes out the window, worrying about someone else or something else,” Donovan said. “Here, there’s nothing else to think about.”


“The guys need to be upbeat, upbeat and confident, and I think they will be.”

— Landon Donovan on playing with balance

Step 2: When the going gets tough… the US has to step in

In the 20th minute of the game against Algeria, the US had a goal by Clint Dempsey disallowed for offside, which televised replays would prove was an incorrect call. It gave Donovan an uneasy feeling that was hard to shake.

“It’s hard because you know these kind of games are defined by one or maybe two plays,” said Donovan. “It always seems to be that way. When one of those things goes against you, it’s hard to deal with.

“You have to get yourself back together and keep playing in the way that created the opportunity. At that point, of course, we weren’t sure whether it should have been a goal or not.”

Reset and refocus are easy instructions to give, a little more difficult to follow. The only real testing moment so far in the tournament came when Gareth Bale equalized for Wales in the 82nd minute. Berhalter’s group was not unnecessarily influenced by the disappointment and finished strong.

“The reality is you can’t do anything,” Donovan said. “You have to keep going.”

Hall of Fame Bound!

Hall of Fame Bound!

USMNT Legends DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan Inducted into National Soccer Hall of Fame

Step 3: Tick-tock, how many minutes on the clock?

One of the hardest parts of an elimination game is being able to play knowing that time is passing. If the game continues and there is still a deadlock, you can be sure that Iran will do everything it can to disrupt the rhythm and further delay the game.

“You’re just in the game, you’re not consumed by it, but there’s human nature there and you’re literally watching the clock every minute,” Donovan said. “It’s just what you do. It’s not conscious.”

At this stage, don’t expect the game to look anything at all to begin with. There will be more risk taking, more improvisation from the American attackers.

“When it came to that in 2010, our forwards were cheating with defense all the time, just staying on the pitch and taking our chances in transition,” Donovan continued. “What gets lost in that game is that our back four, plus Michael Bradley and Tim Howard, were just incredible at keeping us in the game.

“That’s the part that people take their eyes off. Yes, you have to score. But your defense has to have a huge game or else the job will be even harder.”

Will the USMNT advance?

Will the USMNT advance?

The “FIFA World Cup Tonight” crew responds to Tim Ream and Walker Zimmerman’s comments about the US preparation.

Step 4: The hour is coming, who will it be?

A thunderous attack from outside the area. A good header from a corner kick. A nerveless penalty kick. A loose ball that bounces around the box and enters through someone’s backside.

All of the above, the US would be happy to accept. It doesn’t matter how you score; it just matters that you do. And that when the chance falls on the fate of the player, he is ready.

“It comes down to whoever makes a play,” Donovan said. “It’s your own instincts, tactics and game plan are virtually obsolete at that point, by the time there are 15-20 minutes left.

“When the time comes, it’s almost automatic. Your legs are tired. You’ve given everything, but you have to give more. Stay as calm as possible. Make the game. That’s all you’re trying to do.”

Donovan broke it. When he picked up the ball from Howard almost 91 minutes into the game, he strode forward with purpose. After Jozy Altidore passed to the middle and Clint Dempsey’s shot was blocked, he sprinted forward to slot the winning goal into the net.

It was simply unforgettable.

Adams joked this week that he hoped the US “don’t leave so late” this time. How it happens and when it happens doesn’t matter. Just that it happens.

Donovan believes so.

“They know they can beat Iran,” he said. “This is a game they can absolutely win. They won’t be intimidated. They shouldn’t be intimidated.”

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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.

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