Saturday, February 13, 2010

Landon Donovan and You

I have always been at the front of the line in taking shots at Landon Donovan - too soft, vanishes in big games.

Well, Donovan has made me eat my words in his successful stint with Everton in the English Premier League. His success is proving many of his critics wrong (starting with me), and his stock has gone up significantly in world football.

Andrea Canales of recently wrote a column about those who have slagged off Donovan in the past, yet have suddenly come around to stand in his corner...and after reading the column, you could make a case that it might have even been directed at me...

You, you there in the blue Everton jersey, eyes bleary from watching Landon Donovan play across the pond in the early hours of this country's time zone. Yes, the spring in your step gives it all away; the proud lift of the chin, the slightly-crazed air of giddiness that sleep-deprivation induces.

The age of Aquarius has arrived for you, hasn't it? Jupiter has aligned with Mars and all is right with the world when the USA's best player is stepping on a field abroad, apparently.

After all, it was against this dark and turbid disturbance in the soccer universe that you railed at for so long. All those long years you refused to ever buy the USA jersey of a player who didn't play in Europe. There was always that slight cringing every time Donovan scored another goal. After all, wasn't your argument that playing in Major League Soccer was an incredible detriment?

If that was true, how did the goals and assists keep rolling in? How did Donovan keep improving in the league you pegged as useless? Not for you the drive out to the local stadium to support the MLS team nearby or to watch Donovan in person whenever the Galaxy showed up. Better to invest in a premium television package and spend weekend mornings watching USA soccer's best perform in leagues around the world.

Yet Donovan was always the big hole in that assumption and argument - that Europe was where all the top Americans played. A player that had stuttered to zero first-team field action during his early years with Bayer Leverkusen was burning things up in MLS from the moment he first joined as a teenager. Upon arrival to San Jose in 2001, Donovan was handed that precious commodity that all young players really need - regular game time. He made the most of it and improved by leaps and bounds, though he never returned to Europe for any significant length of time. Donovan advanced to become the USA's premier player during his time in MLS, becoming a living, breathing contradiction to your whole, 'a player is nothing unless performing in La Liga, Seria A, or Premiership' thesis. And no matter how you tried to talk yourself out of that conundrum, it stymied you.

You fought it, hard, though, I'll grant you. Remember when that Mexico fan tried to trash Donovan and you came up with more criticisms of Donovan's game than he had? Donovan was too soft; he didn't like to get kicked; he couldn't score in big games; he wouldn't take over enough games; he was oddly superstitious; not enough of a leader. . . By the time that discussion ended, it was the other guy reminding you of Donovan's 2002 World Cup header versus Mexico, after you said Donovan wasn't any good in the air. No one used Donovan's cutting, disparaging nicknames with more enthusiasm than you, even yelling it out during World Cup qualifying games as the Americans took to the field.

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