Commentary: Re-imagining Donovan's legacy
Landon Donovan finished the MLS regular season with 16 assists, which is good enough to lead the league and set a new career record for the Galaxy captain.
Despite his reputation as a goal-scorer, Donovan's feat shouldn't come as a surprise as he has spent most of the last decade as America's premier playmaker.
The numbers back up the claim.
Donovan has tallied more than twice as many assists for the United States as the next player on the all-time list, and he'll likely finish the year with the most assists for the USMNT this year. (He has three; Steve Cherundolo has two).
If that happens, it'll be the eighth straight year that he's led the US in that category, though he tied with Eddie Lewis in 2003 and Taylor Twellman in 2006.
Take a moment to let that percolate.
For nearly 10 years, Donovan has led the squad in goals in five of the past eight years. He blew past Eric Wynalda's record for career strikes while quietly doubling-up as the US' best distributor.
This is at least part of the reason why Bob Bradley moved his star out wide and gave him more freedom to operate — to attack the defense and use his vision to locate passing lanes.
Of course, some of this production is a direct result of the playing time he's received. But it's still quite an accomplishment even if one takes into account the massive minutes he's seen in a Red, White and Blue jersey.
Now, back to the Galaxy. Donovan notched 16 assists despite missing six matches while in South Africa for the World Cup. The production isn't a huge shock — he's had double-digit assists in four of his 10 MLS seasons — but his 0.67 assists-per-game average far exceeds his previous high of 0.52 in 2007. (Donovan averages 0.39 assists per game over his career, placing him 10th all-time and fourth among players with over 50 MLS assists).
The question is, why the flurry of productivity?
Edson Buddle is the key to Donovan posting the league's second-highest assists total since the 2003 season. The striker found himself on a remarkable run of form in the early stages of the season, and Donovan was the beneficiary. They connected in the first match of the season and then eight more times over the course of the campaign. That total alone would have been good enough for ninth place overall.
Really, it's a simple formula: Donovan found Buddle in good positions, the striker finished and LA landed the Supporters' Shield.
It does make you wonder what Donovan's assist total on the US squad would look like if he played with a forward who could score reliably and consistently.
Would his scoring decrease as he distributed more? It's not hard to wonder how many potential assists went for naught during the World Cup. Two? Three? Four? And that's only over the course of four matches. Just think about the impact over his entire 10-year national-team career.
Put another way, instead of discussing Donovan alongside Wynalda and Brian McBride as America's best goal-scorers, perhaps he would share space with Claudio Reyna in a conversation about the US' best playmaker?
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.