Numerically, it doesn't matter what version of the U.S.' all time leading score this is.
Tuesday night, we saw a man who clearly wanted to be playing, was quietly the best player on the field and quite clearly, had a blast.
The Landon Donovan who still punctuates Patrick Ianni's nightmares may be gone. And that's OK, as long as the U.S. gets to keep this one through the next World Cup.
This guy has a point to prove: that he belongs on the national team he's led for a decade. But also that his sabbatical meant something. The latter, he really only has to prove to himself, and surely has.
To the viewing public, and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, though, that point is still crystallizing – yet quickly. Donovan just seems happier on the field now.
You can see it when he actually smiles away a bad call or tries to backheel a goal in from five yards. Last cycle's Donovan spouts off to the referee while back-skipping into the wall, set to launch himself downfield on a 70-yard gut-buster of a counterattack.
The Donovan of a few years ago turns and rips that dummy from Chris Wondolowski into the top of the net, goalkeeper's facial structure be damned. That Donovan drove himself to the point of retirement.
This man just laughed his way into the 50 goals, 50 assists club.
A more goal-minded Donovan might have had the hat trick instead of Wondolowski tonight. The U.S. would have won either way.
Belize is truly awful, Donovan doesn't need to tell anyone that, so there's no need to pronounce him as fully returned. He's not. He's not even the same player or person as a player. For the U.S. to succeed though, he doesn't have to be.
Donovan can be the guy who peels to the right wing on an 80th-minute breakaway to let Mix Diskerud lead the counterattack. Because a player as talented as Donovan, who's shown us he can pass, create, run and score with anyone just needs to enjoy himself now to be effective.
Many kids have been told by parents and coaches that “It's not about winning, it's about having fun,” to which most people of any age reflexively call BS.
Right now, if Landon Donovan has fun, the vision pours out of him, opportunities and goals become an inevitability and the U.S. wins. When he's just playing out there like he did Tuesday night, the sport really is reduced to a game.
- Jacob Klinger