FOX Sports Insider
AL RAYYAN, Qatar – If the United States’ World Cup adventure is to survive beyond Tuesday night, it will take a couple of things.
A victory, obviously, and no other result. A goal, obviously, because you can’t win without scoring one. And a hero – or heroes – ready to seize the day and change their lives forever.
This is what is needed when facing the US Iran on Tuesday at the Al Thumama Stadium in a win-or-go-home third Group B game (2 pm ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
Football is about big moments, when one individual provides a snapshot of inspiration that changes everything. Whoever he is for the USA, it’s realistic to assume that there could be things in his future like a talk show appearance, a Wheaties box cover and an eternal position as a beloved figure in American soccer circles .
Landon Donovan knows what it’s like to be the man of the hour, scoring the most nervy goal in US men’s soccer history, a stoppage-time penalty against Algeria in 2010 to secure a place in the knockout round and avoid the elimination
Tim Howard relives Landon Donovan’s legendary World Cup goal
Now a World Cup analyst for FOX Sports, Donovan told us a four-point plan for how any of Gregg Berhalter’s young teams can find their own piece of magic and how to handle it if the opportunity arises.
It’s not a foolproof project, because there is no such thing in sports’ most competitive tournament. But as destiny takes its cues, the likes of Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah and captain Tyler Adams would do well to heed advice… from a man who knows.
Step 1: Pre-match balance to prepare for posterity
“The good thing is you know you have to win,” Donovan told me. “That’s the ‘easy’ part, if there is such a thing. When there’s a little ambiguity and you have to worry about what’s going on somewhere else, that’s when it can get a little more complicated.”
Things weren’t so clear cut for the USA in 2010. Heading into the game there were still some scenarios where a draw could be good enough to advance. When Jermain Defoe scored for England against Slovenia, the picture became a little clearer. Victory was necessary.
“In the (2022) situation, all that goes out the window, worrying about somebody else or something else,” Donovan said. “Here, there’s nothing else to think about.”
“Guys need to be positive, positive and confident, and I think they will be.”
— Landon Donovan on playing it cool
Step 2: When the going gets tough… the USA must begin
In the 20th minute of the Algeria match, the USA had a Clint Dempsey goal disallowed for offside, which TV replays would show was the wrong call. It left Donovan with an uneasy feeling that was hard to shake.
“It’s tough because you know games like this are going to be decided by one or maybe two plays,” Donovan said. “That always seems to be the case. When one of them goes against you, it’s hard to deal with.
“You have to bounce back and keep playing the way that created the opportunity. At the time, of course, we didn’t know for sure if it was supposed to be a goal or not.”
Reset and refocus are easy instructions to give, a little harder to follow. So far in the tournament, the only moment of real test came when Gareth Bale equalized for Wales in the 82nd minute. Berhalter’s side did not let the disappointment affect them unduly and finished strongly.
“The reality is, there’s nothing you can do,” Donovan said. “You have to go on.”
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 running out. If the game continues and there is still a deadlock, you can be sure that Iran will do everything possible to disrupt the rhythm and slow the game down even more.
“You’re just in the game, it doesn’t consume you, but there’s human nature 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 like it did in the beginning. More risks will be taken, more improvisation from American forwards.
“When it got to that point in 2010, our forwards were cheating on defense all the time, just staying on the field and taking advantage of our opportunities in transition,” Donovan continued. “What is missed about this game is that our back four, plus Michael Bradley and Tim Howard, were incredible to keep us in the game.
“That’s the part that people overlook. Yes, you have to score. But your defense has to have a great game, otherwise the job becomes even more difficult.”
Step 4: The time has come, who will it be?
A thunderstorm from outside the area. A cracking header from a corner. A penalty without nerves. A loose ball that bounces around the box and into someone’s back.
Any of the above, the US would happily accept. It doesn’t matter how you score; it just matters that you do. And, that when the opportunity falls on the fate of the player who decides, he is ready for it.
“It depends on who makes a play,” Donovan said. “It’s your own instinct, the tactics and the game plan are pretty much obsolete at this point, with 15-20 minutes left.
“When the moment comes it’s almost automatic. Your legs are tired, you’ve given it your all, but you’ve got to give it more. Stay as calm as you can. Make the play. That’s all you’re trying to do.”
Donovan did the play. Collecting the ball from Howard with almost 91 minutes gone, he drove forward with purpose. After Jozy Altidore crossed the middle and Clint Dempsey’s shot was blocked, he sprinted forward to slide the winning goal into the net.
It was simply unforgettable.
Adams joked this week that he hoped the US “won’t be so late” this time. How it happens, and when it happens, doesn’t matter. It just happens.
Donovan thinks he will.
“They know they can beat Iran,” he said. “This is a game they can absolutely win. “They won’t be intimidated. They should not be intimidated.”
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Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a writer for ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the US men’s and women’s national teams at several FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @By Doug McIntyre.
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