The life of Mozart is the triumph of genius over precociousness.
—PETER GAY, Mozart
Landon Donovan cannot move. Well, this is Kansas City. Nobody can move. The Wizards' field is the bane of American soccer. Carved into a minor league baseball stadium, CommmunityAmerica Ballpark, it's way too short and way too narrow. Playing here, as Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena will say, is like playing big league baseball with the bases 75 feet apart. The field smothers creativity. There is no open space. There are no clear angles. It is soccer in a Chevy Equinox.
Landon Donovan cannot breathe. No, really. He has bronchitis. His cough makes his sides hurt. A cold Midwestern rain falls, and the pitch is mud, and the lights shine at an odd angle, and an April wind blows right through him. The announced crowd is 10,045. Reality demands that number be cut in half.
The Wizards and the Galaxy will play a dreadful scoreless draw that could spark three days' worth of "soccer is dull and un-American" talk radio. Fortunately there is no talk radio show host within miles of the place.
And yet ... something happens here, something that no one in the crowd notices but that may define Landon Donovan—Galaxy star, U.S. national team veteran—at this point in his life. Anyway, he thinks so. Donovan was once called the best young player in the world. He was once called the man who would change American soccer. Not so long ago he sparked people in England to cheer for him: "U-S-A! U-S-A!" He is the creative force behind a U.S. World Cup team with hopes of advancing deeper into the world's biggest tournament than it ever has, beginning with a match on June 12 against England in Rustenburg, South Africa, that may be the most anticipated in the history of American soccer.
And still, at 28 years old, in the prime of his life, at the happiest point of his career, after accomplishing more than any American soccer player ever has, Donovan finds something worthy on a cold rainy evening in Kansas City, something he never expected.
I just got good.
—BOBBY FISCHER, chess champion, explaining his emergence in the game at age 11
One thing Americans agree about soccer—the fans and cynics both—is that goals are rare things. The critics will say this critically, of course; how could anyone love a game in which neither team might score at all? Who can sit through 90-plus minutes of that sort of drudgery? We are a nation of the tangible. We are a country of Avatar (in 3-D!), slam-dunk contests, NFL's Greatest Hits music videos and Lady Gaga. Subtlety isn't our thing.