LOS ANGELES -- The busiest and in many ways most difficult year in Landon Donovan's increasingly storied soccer career ultimately could be the most satisfying.
That was his judgment Tuesday after claiming an unprecedented sixth Honda Player of the Year Award given annually to the U.S. national team's top player in a luncheon at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Donovan, 27, was instrumental in the Americans' successful qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup and its trek to the Confederations Cup championship match.
"I think this year was, aside from 2002 [when the U.S. reached the World Cup quarterfinals], as long as I've been part of the national team, the best year the national team's had," said Donovan, who won the Honda Award for the third successive year after winning three in a row in 2002-04. "Maybe including 2002. So to be part of it, to be recognized for that, is very cool."
Donovan received 424 points in balloting by 221 media members, finishing ahead of two England-based teammates, goalkeeper Tim Howard (267 points), who plays for Everton FC, and 19-year-old forward Jozy Altidore (178), who is with Hull City on loan from Spanish power Villarreal.
Donovan has scored a leading 42 goals during his 120 games with the U.S. national team.
Donovan, the Americans' primary creative player, tallied five goals and 10 assists in 15 U.S. games this year with one match, a Nov. 18 friendly at Denmark remaining on the schedule. He scored or assisted 12 of the Americans' 19 goals during the six-nation final round of CONCACAF qualifying for next year's World Cup in South Africa, leading the U.S. to the top spot in the group with a 6-2-2 record.
He also led the Americans to shutouts of African champion Egypt and European champion Spain to reach the title game of June's Confederations Cup in South Africa, in which the U.S. opened a two-goal lead before falling 3-2 to Brazil.
Donovan is also a Major League Soccer MVP candidate after captaining the Los Angeles Galaxy to its first playoff berth in four seasons. Donovan, who has 11 goals and six assists after winning the MLS scoring title with 20 goals last year, has been the pivotal force behind the Galaxy's resurrection after the acquisition of English star David Beckham failed to bring the club success in 2007 and 2008.
"I had three goals at the beginning of this year," said Donovan, who also was honored Monday as the Honda Player of the Decade. "One was to qualify for the World Cup. The second was to get the Galaxy to the playoffs. And the third was to be as complete a player as I can be at this point in my career. I know I accomplished the first two, and I feel I accomplished the third."
A fourth goal, he said, was to win another MLS Cup title with the Galaxy, which plays its regular-season finale Saturday at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., against the San Jose Earthquakes. A victory could secure the Western Division regular-season title.
Donovan was the catalyst for the Galaxy's 2005 MLS championship, carrying the team, seeded eighth of eight playoff contenders, on an improbable run.
Donovan has gone through several difficult stretches this year. He spent three months on loan to German powerhouse Bayern Munich and was not offered a full contract. His marriage, to actress Bianca Kajlich, dissolved.
And he was a major figure in Grant Wahl's "The Beckham Experiment," a book chronicling and critical of Beckham's first two seasons with the Galaxy. Donovan criticized Beckham's leadership and effort in the book, and he apologized to the English star for airing his thoughts in public.
Since Beckham returned to the Galaxy from a loan deal to Italy's AC Milan, he and Donovan have developed a strong partnership.
"A lot of that fell on David," Donovan said. "David had a choice to let that bother him or to let it help us as a team. And he was a man about it. He accepted my apology, and he's been fantastic in every way. You guys see it on the field, but off the field he's been just as good. Interacting, inviting guys to do things, keeping the team tight."
Beckham has all but completed a deal to return to AC Milan on loan in January, and Donovan also is interested in playing in Europe after three stints in Germany, the first two with Bayer Leverkusen.
Italy's Livorno targeted Donovan in July, and Richard Motzkin, Donovan's agent, said "there's no shortage of interest from clubs over in Europe."