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Landon Donovan’s World Cup goal remembered a decade later: ‘I really blacked out’

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It wasn’t supposed to come to this. A US team glittering with stars was now staring down the barrel of its World Cup. Technically-gifted players like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey had helped the team get to South Africa. To escape to the next round, though, it needed to conjure up something more akin to the stubbornly grit attributed to American teams of the past.

We all know what happened next. Ten years ago today, with the USMNT at its most desperate, Donovan poked the ball home in stoppage time. Algeria, defeated. A nation, inspired.

These are the stories of those who watched the chaos of Donovan’s goal unfold from afar, or even from the sidelines. The Mexican national team watched from its hotel with surprise that it took the US so long to score. The head USMNT trainer grew anxious on the bench as time ran out for the team to salvage its tournament. A college soccer player watching at his parents’ house bit his nails as a 0-0 deadlock persisted.

“I needed a nap after that game,” that player, former Red Bull Connor Lade, said.

A decade on, the moment is undoubtedly the most iconic in USMNT history — the type of memory forever affixed to your specific surroundings and company at the time. This is the memory of that improbable goal, through the words of five New York City soccer figures.

“Looking back at it now,” Red Bulls defender Tim Parker said, “It’s like a FIFA game that usually I would end up losing.”


Ivan Pierra, Red Bulls’ head trainer, USMNT trainer at ’94, ’98 World Cups, head trainer 2007-14: I was in the military and I’m — for lack of a better word — a top American. So that’s basically something that was embedded in my heart. So being part of the national team was very special.

Joe Scally, New York City FC: My whole family was big US soccer fans. My whole family loved Claudio Reyna.

Connor Lade, Red Bulls 2012-2019, Senior Manager of Alumni and Player Relations: I was actually one of the guys carrying the stretcher for the Gold Cup [final, in 2009] when it was at Giants Stadium, when Mexico played the US.

Tim Parker, Red Bulls/USMNT: For me, being the only soccer player in my friend group — it was a little tough. But the national team kind of brought us all together.

Lade: I think the previous year with [making the final of] the Confederations Cup, I think everyone was still riding that high. It was an incredible performance they put on in the Confederations Cup, and really just set the tone going into the World Cup. Expectations were probably higher than ever.

2009 Confederations Cup Clint Dempsey
Clint Dempsey puts the USMNT 2-0 ahead against Spain in the semifinals of the 2009 Confederations Cup.FIFA via Getty Images

Scally: We always in America want the best, and always believe we’re the best.

Parker: Americans are so stubborn in the way they think we should succeed in all things.

Efrain Juarez, New York City FC assistant, Mexico national team 2009-12: We were expecting the US in that World Cup, 2010, to be a really good team.

At some point in that time, we kinda felt a little bit behind the US, to be honest. We were playing in 2009 at the Gold Cup, and at the same time, we were watching the US [first team] in the hotel, play in the Confederations [Cup].

Pierra: That’s like the A-national team that the US national team has been working to develop all these years. Through the youth programs and everything.

Lade: Guys had made big moves to big European teams. Tim Howard was at Everton, Landon just was on loan there. Jozy just had his move [to Villareal], Clint… You could just go down the list.

Tim Howard Everton Manchester United
Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard jumps to punch the ball away from Manchester United forward Carlos Tevez in 2009.PA Images via Getty Images

Scally: Back then I played midfield, so I always looked up kinda to Michael Bradley.

Pierra: The abundance of players that were available back then, [compared with how many] there are now — it was a lot harder to be a national team player in 2010 than it was in ‘94 and ‘98. The talent pool was a lot bigger.

‘98 you have Brad Friedel, you have Tab Ramos, you have John Harkes, you have Claudio Reyna. You have some very great American players that also played overseas. But I think with 2010, we had more of those guys for the coach to choose from than we did in ‘98.


The United States begins its World Cup on June 12 in a group with England, Slovenia and Algeria. After a creditable 1-1 draw against England in the first game — helped by goalkeeper Robert Green’s bungling of a speculative Clint Dempsey effort — the USMNT erases a 2-0 deficit to earn another point against Slovenia. To guarantee qualification for the knockout rounds, it must beat Algeria in its last group stage game.

Pierra: A tie is not too bad in a World Cup.

Lade: Obviously it was a massive error [in the England game], but you have a deep breath. You’re like, ‘Alright, this is possible at this point.’

Parker: I was riding high after that… I was like, ‘To get a point against England…’

Pierra: Obviously having another tie [against Slovenia], you’re going, ‘Alright, if we win we’re good.’ But anything else, it’s a coin toss.

Juarez: We were not expecting US to suffer too much with Algeria to get through.

Parker: I’d say the expectation was to get out of the group, even though they were in a tough group at the time.

United States England Clint Dempsey Robert Green
England goalkeeper Robert Green mishandles a shot from Clint Dempsey for the United States’ only goal in a 1-1 draw.AP

Pierra: We’re talking guys with three World Cups by that time. The Beasleys, the Landons — I think Dempsey was only two — Howard, Bocanegra, Cherundolo (Author’s note: Tim Howard was part of the 2006 World Cup squad but did not appear in a game). These other World Cups, like the ‘94 and ‘98, not too many guys went [to] both World Cups.

Parker: I thought it would be a much easier game than it was… But we found a way to make things interesting, to say the least.

Scally: That whole day I was just nervous, looking forward to the game.

Pierra: You feel that energy, you feel that intensity, you feel that pressure within every practice. Granted they try and lighten it up with certain things throughout the week so it’s not as cumbersome.

You’re not just playing for yourself or working for yourself. You’re working for a whole country that is commenting and looking at every news clip. Especially with social media later on… the World Cup by the time it reached 2010 and 2014, the social media was so abundant, you couldn’t help but know that there were so many people and so much invested in the success of the team.

Lade: You really alter your entire life to watch the World Cup. Businesses shut down, you [do everything you can do] to watch.

Scally: I was at my Aunt Cathy’s house [for the Algeria game]. And it was basically my whole mom’s side of the family. So we probably had about 15 people there.

Juarez: We were in the hotel [with] the squad all the time. So the only thing we’re watching was games from the World Cup. We get the restaurant, only for us. And then the player room with the big TV, next to the restaurant.

Parker: We’re going into my senior year of high school, so we’re all just hanging out in my buddy’s backyard. And I’m trying to explain to them what’s going on. Who’s who, you know. Because they only know the main guys… I’m trying to explain to them the little — the in and outs. And I think the unique thing about my friends is anything kind of patriotic they can get behind.

Going into that game, obviously how my mindset was, my friends’ mindset was the same way : ‘Oh, like, we’re gonna wax Algeria, we’re gonna smack em’ around, we’re gonna move on to the next round. And then who do we got? Who’s next?’

Pierra: Obviously by that game, the mentality was a little more businesslike. Yeah, you wanna’ have fun, but this is definitely a mentality of, ‘OK, we gotta take care of business.’

Bob Bradley USMNT World Cup Algeria
USMNT manager Bob Bradley is seen at Loftus Versfeld Stadium for the game against Algeria.PA Images via Getty Images

The bond that these guys had and everything they had within it, kinda eased the pressure a little bit. Because these guys knew each other, these guys are all accomplished, European players. They’re a lot more calm [than previous US teams], they’re not as nervous. They’re just focused. And the ones with the less experience are the ones with the anxiety that’s through the roof. These guys, zero anxiety.

Lade: I was home in Morristown [New Jersey] at my parents’ house. It was me, my mom and my dad… We were living and dying on every kick.


As the match trudges on, it’s clear the USMNT won’t be waltzing past Algeria into the Round of 16. Both teams have failed to finish off quality chances, and it is a 0-0 deadlock deep into the second half. With England leading Slovenia 1-0 in the group’s other game, a win becomes even more vital for the Americans.

Lade: The toughest part about it is how many chances we had during the game. You know, Clint [Dempsey] hitting the post, Jozy [Altidore] had a couple opportunities. The offside goal [from Dempsey] was a little deflating.

Pierra: We were on them, man. We were knocking on the door, and we just needed that golden moment.

Parker: I was very nervous. Just because the US was constantly pushing, constantly pushing because they knew they needed a goal. But it also left them kind of exposed on the back end… when you’re constantly pushing like that, you’re leaving — you’re vulnerable at the back.

Lade: I was pretty confident going into it. Obviously as the game goes on — I don’t know if I had nails left really because I was just biting them down to nothing.

Pierra: You just sit there, man. You’re just going, ‘f–k… it’s like we can’t, we can’t just be out in the first round, this is ridiculous.’

US defender Carlos Bocanegra missed chance Algeria World Cup
US defender Carlos Bocanegra (3), with teammates forward Jozy Altidore (17), midfielder Michael Bradley (4) and forward Clint Dempsey (8), reacts to a missed chance against Algeria.AFP via Getty Images

Lade: You’re tracking the score — the England game, obviously they get the result they needed. And we know we have to win. And obviously Algeria is in the same boat. And after how that [other] game unfolded, it’s desperation time.


The clock reaches 90 minutes in South Africa, and the fourth official signals that there will be four minutes of stoppage time. If there is to be a breakthrough for the USMNT, it has to happen now. On the other end of the pitch, though, Tim Howard has just saved the US from catastrophe, catching a header from close range after Hassan Yebda floated a cross into the box.

Lade: You’re holding your breath there. Obviously Tim [Howard] is an incredible keeper. And you have total confidence in him. But when that cross came in… ‘Oh my god this would be the worst dagger of all.’

Pierra: Once [Tim Howard threw the ball to Landon Donovan], you can just see the sequence going from the outside in. Landon’s in the position where he’s gonna make the best impact, Dempsey’s in the position where he’s gonna make the best impact. And I’m like, ‘Alright, this is it, this is the chance.’

Lade: As soon as it pans to [Landon], he’s just sprinting in typical Landon fashion, running faster with the ball than without it. It was incredible. And you just start perking up.

Juarez: In the tough moments, I didn’t see too many players, that when the pressure was at the top — [Donovan] always wants the ball, he always wants to create something, he always wants more.

Parker: The run was incredible.

Lade: Instantly, once they save Clint’s initial chance, your heart sinks in your chest.

Parker: And then It’s just too picturesque for it to be –[for] that ball to fall to anyone else’s feet other than Landon Donovan.

Landon Donovan Algeria goal Clint Dempsey
Landon Donovan runs to score past Algeria’s goalkeeper M’bolhi Rais Ouheb after he saved a shot from Clint Dempsey (left, foreground).AFP via Getty Images

Lade: It seemed like it took forever for that ball to just trickle to him… When he finished that, I really blacked out in the moment.

Scally: I just remember being so shocked, honestly.

Parker: I was running around the backyard screaming, like in circles. A little better than Reggie Miller’s celebration the other night on “The Last Dance.”

Juarez: To be honest, in my mind, it was like, ‘US need to beat — or must beat — Algeria.’ So when Landon scored… we were kind of like ‘F—ing hell.’ Take so long.

Pierra: The biggest thing that even brought more chills was the fact that everybody posted all the clips of the people around the nation just going crazy.

Lade: I think everyone in America felt like they were in that pile. When [Donovan] slid, and you see Stu [Holden] coming in sliding, and the entire bench emptying out, and Jay DeMerit doing a flip into the pile — it was one communal dogpile all across America. And it was definitely the case in my house. Maybe there was some furniture broken, who knows. We were going absolutely wild.

I can’t imagine as a player — you feel like you just won the World Cup after that Algeria game.

Parker: I think everything [Donovan] did for US Soccer growing up, and up until that point, he just deserved to score a goal like that, that was able to give the country so much emotion.

Juarez: Landon, to the Mexican people, the Mexican players, all the time was kind of the villain… Landon Donovan is the best player in the history of American football… What Donovan did for US football was massive.

Pierra: World Cups are hard, man. And to have that kind of success in that moment… I have a special relationship with all of those guys. I still talk to them, and every time we see each other it’s a great bond. I wouldn’t doubt that we would just pick up — if we all got together and celebrated that one goal, it would make up for everything that we all felt.

Parker: Especially in that Algeria game, you saw the constant grind of these guys that were willing to push. You know, they were emptying the tank on every play. And I think that kind of work ethic — that’s the kind of stuff that us Americans, even ones who aren’t soccer fans — value a lot. And I think that game was kind of the epitome of that.

Lade: You couldn’t wait to get back playing. I remember talking to my parents after and just [being] like, ‘I cannot wait to get back and play this season.’ And it felt like the longest time ever because it was still June and you still have the longest time until your college season starts up again. But I couldn’t wait to go and just knock the ball around with my friends.

Parker: I went into my senior season playing forward for some reason.

Lade: I could watch this highlight back at any time and go back to that emotion, feel the same things. It’s impossible for me not to have goosebumps watching this over and over again. And it’s something that you can really draw a lot of inspiration from.

Ivan Pierra USMNT Algeria Landon Donovan goal
Head USMNT trainer Ivan Pierra (center, blue shirt, mouth open) joins the dogpile after Donovan’s goal.AFP via Getty Images

Scally: Playing in the World Cup is everyone’s dream as a soccer player. So looking at those players, aspiring to be like them and seeing what they could do against the biggest countries, it just made you want to fight for it more.

Parker: It’s an emotional feeling for me because of what kinda soccer means to me, and what being an American means to me.

I’m not sure I ever really pictured myself playing for the [national] team.

Lade: To be at the point in my career that I was, and to be with my family watching it, it was a truly, truly special moment. My favorite national team moment and sports moment, really, of all time.

Juarez: I really believe that football is magical, it’s fantastic… In football, you can’t plan anything.


The US would go on to lose to Ghana in the Round of 16, but Donovan’s goal still goes down as one of the most memorable in this country’s history.

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