Right now, Landon Donovan's name triggers memories of his famous World Cup snub and the controversy it spawned.
That will always be a chapter in his story, but years from now it won't matter. What will matter more is Donovan's massive contributions to soccer in the United States.
Measure that role in whatever manner you like. His 217 U.S. men's national team appearances are a record. So are his 101 international goals.
Donovan is the all-time assist leader for international play, as well, and he has been named the best player on the U.S. national soccer team seven times. No won else has won the award more than three times.
Or appoint him America's greatest soccer player for the thrilling performances he has delivered on soccer's largest stage. Donovan was a key member of the 2002 World Cup team that came from nowhere to reach the World Cup quarterfinals. In that tournament, Donovan was named the Best Young Player.
Eight years later, America was on the verge of tying Algeria and getting eliminated from the World Cup when Donovan did this:
Landon Donovan's World Cup goal vs Algeria by cdh7116
Then consider his starring role in Major League Soccer, helping elevate the profile and credibility of a young league looking to establish roots among the U.S. fan base. As a starring forward for the Los Angeles Galaxy, Donovan preceded the arrivals of many prominent stars coming over from more established European clubs, including David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and Clint Dempsey.
It's fitting that Donovan ends his career on a team -- and in a league -- that owes so much to him for their existence. The Los Angeles Galaxy will square off with New England Revolution this weekend with the Major League Soccer Cup on the line.
Donovan is seeking his sixth MLS Cup championship in seven appearances with both the Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes. Even on the cusp of his retirement, the forward is playing soccer near the top of his career, notching a hat trick once already in this playoff run and tormenting opposing teams alongside forward Robbie Keane.
His strong performances have brought many to wonder aloud why Donovan is choosing now to retire. Some speculate that he is reacting to coach Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to leave him off the World Cup roster, and is choosing to retire than to face future disgraces.
Donovan insists that isn't the case. Instead, he wants to move on to new phases of life and opportunities he's missed because of his soccer career.
"This is all overwhelming," Donovan said earlier in the playoffs. "When it's all said and done, there’s going to be some sadness, but there will be even more excitement, because I will know for the first time in 16 years, I won’t have to worry about next year."
Yet fans can't help but feel that they're the ones missing out. Donovan isn't just a once-in-a-generation player. In America, he's a once-ever player. And even as the USMNT appears to have a bright future, it's hard to underestimate how much Donovan has done to make such success possible.
There may be better players to come after him, but there won't be a single player that did as much for soccer in the United States as Landon Donovan.