I remember when I first brought Landon into National Team camp in October of 2000. What made me think he was ready to be there were his youth and his attacking qualities: speed, endurance, and his confidence in taking on players and being aggressive. He was a breath of fresh air in a U.S. player pool that lacked a lot of quality at the attacking end of the field. Landon and DaMarcus Beasley, as they were coming through in that period of time, were a breath of fresh air and clearly players we had to take a look at.
At that stage of his career, Landon was a real good kid off the field; he managed himself well. I’ve said this many times, but my first impression of Landon in 1997 wasn’t a good one. However, once I got to know him, he was obviously a good kid. He was a confident kid and a confident player and he demonstrated that on and off the field, but he was very respectful of the older players and knew where he fit in on the team.
A few things still stick out in my mind from Landon’s performance at the 2002 World Cup. He was a truly outstanding player; wherever we played him, he made us better. At times we paired him with Brian McBride, at times he played in the midfield, but I think what I’ll always remember is that we witnessed a young man becoming a star and it was exciting to see. He is probably one of the first Americans that you could really see a big future ahead for him.
When I put Landon in for the first game against Portugal, I remember pulling aside him and DaMarcus – I hate to pair them together, but for me during that period of time they were fairly similar in a lot of ways having come up through the U-17 program in Bradenton. I just told them, ‘Guys, you’re starting tomorrow against Portugal.’ They didn’t blink an eye and got on with the business. I’m sure as they walked away they were a little nervous, but these were guys who were really confident in their experiences and successes internationally. With the U-17s they were confident they could play with anybody, so they were raring to go and they demonstrated in that opening game that they belonged on the field.
I’ve said before that being so young they didn’t know any better, so the stakes didn’t faze them. There’s no question they had a confidence and brashness that made some of the veteran players, who you have to remember had a lot of scar tissue built up from the 1998 World Cup, take note. We entered 2002 with memories of September 11 and the 1998 World Cup, which put a lot of mental stress on the players, but Landon saw through some of that, so he and DaMarcus gave our team a real boost.
When we played Mexico in the Round of 16, Landon scored a great goal. It’s been 12 years since then, but I recall how we got the ball to John O’Brien who picked out Eddie Lewis. If there was anyone who could cross the ball in front of goal, it was Eddie Lewis, and if there’s anyone who could get on the end of a cross, it was Landon. Landon’s run out of the midfield on that play was spectacular. I think he ran probably 40 yards and outran most of the Mexican team to score a goal that sealed the game for our team. It was one of the great counterattack goals we had and obviously a huge goal in the competition.
It was exciting to see him emerge out of that World Cup, having had that kind of success and go on to cap off a wonderful career in MLS and with the U.S. National Team. The 2002 World Cup was his stage where he showed the world he was a quality player.
After his performance at that World Cup I knew he had the potential to be a great player. I didn’t know where he’d end up and could not have dreamed that he’d base a large majority of his career in the United States, but that’s what he wanted to do. Now 12 years later we look back and see all he’s accomplished: he’s scored the most goals in the history of MLS, he’ll probably end up having the most assists in league history, he’s done the same with the National Team, and he’s been to three World Cups. He’s accomplished everything an American player at this point in time can accomplish.
Now he feels it’s the right time for him to step away, so I’m real happy for Landon and real proud to have been associated with him all these years. We honor him as a great player and a great person.