Friday, November 21, 2008

The Landon fallout

When I talked to Landon Donovan after the season ended about the possibility of going to Europe, I specifically asked him if he thought he had something to prove and if that was a reason behind his desire to go try his luck in the Old World again.

He said no, flat out, he didn't need to prove himself to anyone.

I'm not sure it's that straightforward, though. Landon is a polarizing figure, which is perplexing. He's the best American soccer player ever. I don't think you.... no, I know you can't argue that. His accolades and statistics and accomplishments speak for themselves. But I would venture to guess that he isn't, I don't know, in the top three of most popular American soccer players. Tough to say. He may be, although Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore have huge followings as well.

But that may be the difference right there. Dempsey and Howard long ago left MLS for good, haven't returned and haven't mentioned a desire to return. Altidore's popularity is fueled by his potential; that he's now on a Spanish club team has only fed into that.

Donovan's time in Europe didn't work out. He came here to MLS, tore it up and many wondered why he couldn't do the same in Europe, where it supposedly really counts.

So now Donovan is back on his way. And he needs to prove himself. Now, here's where the thoughts may differ. Paul Oberjuerge wrote a piece on his blog about Landon's return to Europe and how he feels it's fueled precisely by the constant insults and jeers he gets from the same American soccer fans who massively cheered his goals in the 2002 World Cup, the same American soccer fans who would plug him into their preferred U.S. lineup, the same American soccer fans who have cheered after scoring each of his record 37 U.S. goals, and yes the same fans who were disappointed in his performance in the 2006 World Cup.

I tend to think that Landon is tired of many things; the league, the Galaxy, maybe the relative routine his life has settled into, maybe the long MLS offseason, and the insults and jeers as well. But I do think he has to prove himself. I think he has to prove to himself that he can hack it, that he can succeed at the highest club level possible.

Anyway, check out Paul's post. He includes his dream scenario for this entire Donovan-to-Bayern situation.


JkR said...

Without a doubt, the single worst aspect of being a US Soccer fan is not lines on the field, strange playoff structures or tepid atmospheres.

It is the constant, vapid bashing of Landon Donovan by the so called 'fans' of US soccer. People hiding behind their keyboards with ever widening behinds have the temerity to question his drive and his 'manhood'.

I really find it revolting.

Thanks, good column.

RHYbread said...

I agree with many of Paul's comments though I must say I've always wanted Landon to go to Europe, just so he could shut everyone up. He's always been my boy. I was at his MNT debut, and it's going to be a long long time before we produce another player who approaches his talent. For all the questions about him maximizing his potential, in the big games Landon always came through. 10/25/00 case in point.

My club trainer Clint Greenwood would always tell us about Landon during training and how committed he was to practice every day. And I've never heard anything to cast doubt on that. I'm not sure why people call him soft either, since for a player of his size he always gets into it. The past two years it might have seemed like that but honestly, when you can shut a team down by hacking one player, it's easy to see why a player might seem soft.

I really hope he does well at Bayern only so I can laugh when all the BigSoccer posters and the denizens of SBI hop on the bandwagon and pretended they've always loved him like they did in 2002.

Yeah, I wish he could have been a bit more assertive earlier in his career. It so unfair that he's castigated for the small things because he couldn't will an underperforming team to victory in 2006.