Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Landon Donovan, your legacy awaits

With a number a Web sites reporting a deal in the works, it sounds like Landon Donovan will be loaned to English Premier League club Everton starting in January.

This is intriguing (read: you should care) for a number of reasons.

First, an abridged Landon Donovan timeline:

- At age 17, Donovan signed with German-league (Bundesliga) club Bayer Leverkusen.

- Two years later, because he was unhappy with his playing time and likely very homesick, he was loaned to MLS's San Jose Earthquakes. There he won two titles (2001, 2003) and scored 32 goals in four years.

-Donovan returned to Leverkusen for the 2005 season. After seven games (and two starts) Donovan wanted to come back to America. Leverkusen obliged. He signed with the L.A. Galaxy. He has been labeled too soft ever since.

- In January 2009, after Year Two of The Beckham Experiment, Donovan signed a loan deal with Bayern Munich, another Bundesliga club. Donovan wanted to make it a long-term relationship. Munich didn't feel the same way. Without any goals in Bundesliga play, Donovan went home to L.A. after three months.

- Since leaving Munich, Donovan has played the best soccer of his career, leading the national team to the title game of the Confederations Cup (with a miraculous 2-0 win over No.1-ranked Spain) and club team to the MLS Cup (while being named MLS' Most Valuable Player.)

American export

With 42 international goals Donovan is the U.S. men's national team's all-time leading scorer. When he's all done he will have absolutely shattered one-time scoring leader and one-time angst-ridden commentator Eric Wynalda's mark. And while there are plenty of other Americans playing in Europe (and a handful in the EPL), Donovan may be the best field player the U.S. has ever produced. With all respect to Fulham's Clint Dempsey, Donovan has the chance of being the most valuable American playing in England since Claudio Reyna stepped down as Manchester City's captain.

Donovan has always said how much he wants to play in America, particularly his hometown of L.A., and how much he wants to stay put and help develop the MLS and American soccer. But at the same time, he's well aware of the criticism he's taken for not making it in Europe. It must drive him crazy. He won't be world class in his mind (or in anyone else's) unless he can succeed in Europe.

With Everton he's given a great opporunity. He doesn't have to go back to Germany with the language barrier and bad memories. He can start new, in top form, with a middle-of-the-road team in arguably the best league in Europe. At 27, this is Donovan's year. If he wants to stick around in Europe it has to happen soon. It he wants to elevate his legacy, this is the time to do it.

The English connection

The U.S. and England will play June 12 in the World Cup. When the U.S. played England at Wembley Stadium in 2008, the Three Lions made the Americans (without Donovan) look like a bunch of high schoolers in a 2-0 decision. Things should be more level at a neutral site (one where the U.S. has played before) but England has a huge advantage in terms of talent. Still, the way the U.S. beat Spain in South Africa gives American fans some hope.

A win over England in the World Cup would be monumental for the U.S. Donovan playing with Everton and refining his game in England would make it all the more sweet. If Donovan goes to Everton and sticks around as a valuable playmaker, it would be huge. If, on top of that, he scores in a U.S. win over England this summer, he would immediately become the greatest American soccer player of all time. Seeing Beckham on the other side of the ball, there can be nothing Donovan would like more.

Beckham's role

If you trust Grant Wahl's reporting, then Beckham (and his people) made Donovan's American soccer dream a living hell when he (they) came to the Galaxy in 2007. 19 Entertainment, the company that essentially runs Beckham, made Donovan give up his coach and his captain's arm band. Donovan had his team invaded by a Brit and his PR machine. When Donovan signed with manager Jurgen Klinsmann (a fellow L.A. resident) and Bayern Munich, he made no secret of his intent to stay long-term and leave the Galaxy. (Unfortunately Klinsmann's favor wasn't shared by the rest of Munich and Donovan couldn't find a solid niche on the German powerhouse.) Now looking for a loan deal a year later, its clear Beckham's presence has disrupted Donovan's plan to build up the MLS.

Beckham's MLS move hasn't been a success in the eyes of the average American. Maybe there hasn't been greater interest in soccer in America. But if Beckham's move to L.A. is in fact a variable in Donovan's motivation to prove himself in Europe, I say it was all worth it. The success of Americans in the EPL should not be underestimated. If Donovan can catch on quickly at Everton and turn his loan into a long, goal-scoring career, then American soccer wins. More international attention for an American player would be great. So would more national attention. If that happens, left me be the first to thank Beckham for running him out of town.


  1. Great post. It will be interesting to see what happens with Donovan. I am sure he is looking forward to being yelled at by Tim Howard on another team.

  2. As much as this is great for Donovan, I really think it may actually hurt the U.S. in the long run. If he plays 3 months on loan and then either comes back for the start of MLS or continues in the EPL he is going to have some tire legs come June! Also, this severely hurts MLS's start power -- he's no Becks, but he's the closest thing we've got.


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