New Zealand might be the last place you'd expect an American soccer hero to emerge. But it was on the fields of the southern hemisphere where perhaps the greatest American soccer player of all time first made his name internationally.
It's been more than a decade since a generation of young American soccer players took the 1999 under-17 World Cup in New Zealand by storm, and Landon Donovan claimed the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player. That was the first class to come out of the innovative new setup at Bradenton, Fla. -- an international class training facility for America's top youth soccer players. Logically, much more was expected in coming cycles.
But the years and Bradenton classes have come and gone. Despite the promise of that first group, no international soccer superstar has yet emerged. In fact, there hasn't really been a second player to compare to Donovan. The U.S. has produced other top-flight players, such as Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Stuart Holden, but of those only Bradley ever set foot in Bradenton, and even he failed to make the World Cup team that cycle. And as good as they are, none have the creative ability (or speed) of Donovan in the attacking half of the field.
So how long will American fans need to wait for another player like him? Possibly not that much longer.