Tuesday, April 29, 2008
It has become fashionable, to a point, in US soccer circles to bash Landon Donovan. So much so that some bloggers feel the need to take up Donovan's cause and tell those haters, Chris Crocker style, to Leave Landon alone! Yeah, that's not what I am looking to do here. Instead, I am going to take a look at a recent blog post that whines that we Americans don't appreciate what a treasure we have in him. Join me as we take a paragraph by paragraph look at the inanity of being a Landon Donovan apologist.
Last month's friendly in Krakow against Poland, was exactly that: a friendly which should not be considered some sort of great conquering victory of the US National Team. Sure you’d rather win than lose these sorts of matches, but realistically I still saw some of the same issues that have worried me about the United States since the end World Cup 2006 in this performance.
For those that do not recall the match that well, last month the US defeated Poland 3-0 on the strength of a pretty disastrous performance by Artur Boruc in the Polish net. I saw plenty of worrying things too. The central defense, though responsible for the first two goals, consistently fails at shutting down attacks, leaving the keeper exposed. Perhaps this writer and I are on the same wavelength.
One thing I was overly pleased with was the outstanding play of Landon Donovan. For all the criticisms of Donovan from some quarters of the American soccer community, he continues to be hands down the best player the United States has produced in this particular generation. Those who criticize him and make up silly nicknames do not understand soccer in this country and the types of quality Donovan brings to the field.
Never mind. There were exactly two things I was pleased about with Landon in this game. One, the match was on European soil, and he still played. Two, his free kicks did not fail at the first hurdle. Usually in Europe, Landon hides behind his opponents so he cannot be delivered the ball, which he would invariably give away if he got it. And his free kicks over the last two years either hit the wall or go twenty yards over target. In Krakow, neither of these happened and it led to two goals. Newsflash--that's what is supposed to happen with an attacking midfielder who takes the free kicks. Don't laud him for doing his job. As for whether or not he is the best player in this generation, quite simply, no. Of course, it depends on how you define the generation. Keller and Friedel are both much better, but they are old. I'd still stake my team on Howard before Donovan, because at least I know the Tourette's guy knows how to play in Europe. Field player-wise, I concede that Donovan is the most dangerous within 5 years either way, but I do note that he has shown a disturbing pattern of being bullied out of games against European competition. I believe that there are a few young guys coming through the US ranks who will make Landon a Eric Wynalda like memory on the US team--a good player for the time, but one who could not hold a candle to the players now. Oh, and apparently I am an idiot and do not understand the game.
Donovan’s set piece taking in the Poland match was reminiscent of his early days on the national team. Even better was to watch Donovan’s breakaway. While he didn’t finish the goal off, my point to so many critics of Donovan and of MLS in general has been consistent: Landon Donovan is more fit and has greater pace than almost any player on the planet. While many of these same fans are obsessed with speed and feel MLS is somehow inferior to leagues in Europe simply because it is slower paced (by that logic the Mexican league which is hands down better than MLS would be in an even lower tier because it is even slower than MLS) and by extension Donovan is inferior to any player in Europe need to watch the Poland match. Having been returned to midfield along side Clint Dempsey, the two played well off one another and linked together well with a rather inept striker tandem.
Ooh, that's a long 'graph. Once again, please do not laud Donovan for missing the wall with his free kicks, it's what he is supposed to do. As for the breakaway, he didn't fucking finish it, end of story. You can talk about his pace, his nose for the game, whatever; but you have to note that, when five yards clear of the last defender and only the keeper to beat, he bottled the ball well wide of the mark. At the very least he has to force a save. Don't let the other team off the hook because you missed. Then there's an aside about the MLS being faster than Mexico's league, then he talks about the inept forward tandem and how Landon and Dempsey saved them. Yes, the Johnson-Ching attack is horrible. Let us never have to say those names togather again with respect to the US National Team.
On his day nobody does it better than Donovan. The loudmouth critics can climb under a rock for now, as Landon Donovan has once again fired a statement across the bow as to his quality and pedigree. Thank goodness the US National Team, deficient in so many other areas has his services whenever needed. Donovan has also matured from a young hot head to a grown veteran leader whose skill level and quality is unmatched in the modern history of soccer in the U.S.
When is his day exactly? Does he get one every couple of years or so? I remember the one he had in 2002 against Mexico, that was awesome. When will we get another of those in competition that counts? Yes, Landon can be good to great, he just prefers to do so against teams that can charitably be called "lesser". That's what I have always had against Donovan. For a man with all of the talent in the world for the sport I love, he decided long ago it was not worth it to challenge himself. He would prefer to let his enormous talent stagnate so he could live at the beach with his underworked actress wife rather than try to make it in Europe. That is an opportunity I and others would kill for, and he just said, "Nope. I'm homesick." and sulked off home. He could have had unmatched quality, but instead will be eclipsed before he stops losing hair.
Those who don't like Donovan make up clever nicknames and attack him for his lifestyle choices. The Poland game and the first month of the MLS season should give these critics pause. I will go a step further: Without Donovan it is highly likely the US would not have improved its status in world football and in CONCACAF since hosting the 1994 World Cup. It is also conceivable to see the US miss the world cup if Donovan were to be injured or as some critics suggest, dropped from the national team.
Uh, you already used that nicknames bit-it's up in the second 'graph. And yes, I do attack him for lifestyle choices, see above. It's an American thing to do, dammit. See someone who could make more for themselves and feel disgusted when they decide to settle. Horatio Alger would agree. As for the MLS--see argument above about lesser teams. Landon is a sub-World Class player in the prime of his career playing in a league that does not match his quality. I would hope that he is doing well.
Holy shit, what the fuck? The US would not have gotten any better if Landon had not been born? You have got to be kidding me. You want to speak about generations, let's talk generations. Let's talk about all of the kids playing from the time they can figure out which goal to run towards. That did not happen two generations ago. And what a disservice to all of the other players on the NT. Do you really think that Oguchi Onyewu, even with his current form woes, is a lesser player than Alexi Lalas? That Clint Dempsey is no Joe-Max Moore? Please, get some perspective. And that goes for the World Cup qualis as well. Landon could amputate his head tomorrow and the US would still qualify without problem. Just because you have a Landon Donovan wallbanger you pray to does not make him a god. He's not going to get dropped, either. All we, the US fan base, ask is that Landon Donovan do his job for the team. Create chances, finish them when appropriate, don't hit the wall with free kicks, and actually show for a pass when in Europe. Then, maybe, we may stop talking shit about Kartik's man-crush.
Oh, and stay off Cribs, too. It's just embarrassing when your girl leads you around the house like that.