>Saturday Lunch Special: Donvovan Flourishing Overseas

Posted: February 13, 2010 in Uncategorized
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>   Hi everyone. This is Matt, Evan’s older, better looking brother. I will be popping in from time to time to discuss aspects of the beautiful game, and perhaps other topics that I feel the need to write about. If Evan and Will decide that this blog is going to be rated “PG”, then I will stick to writing about soccer.
   As an American soccer fan, I delight in the fact that many of our national team players (and other American players) are currently fighting for and earning playing time in several of the major European leagues. Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Spector in the English Premier League; Michael Bradley and Steve Cherundolo in the German Bundesliga; Carlos Bocanegra and Charlie Davies (prior to injury he had been starting) in France; to name a few. American players are becoming highly sought after during the transfer windows due to their cost, work rate, and growing technical abilities. One American player in particular, however, has struggled to make an impact abroad despite his domestic and national team success.
   Landon Donovan leads the United States in goals, assists and appearances by an active player. He has played in countless World Cup qualifiers, two World Cups, three CONCACAF Gold Cups and numerous friendlies. His Major League Soccer resume includes four MLS Cup appearances of which he has won three, the most playoff goals in MLS history, and a strike rate of roughly one goal every other game (one goal per 2.16 games). And this is just a quick summary of his achievements.
   One would think that with his success in MLS and internationally, Donovan would have no problem playing at a high level in some of the most competitive leagues in the world. This was not the case. Donovan has gone to Germany three times to play abroad – 1999 and 2005 with Bayer Leverkusen, 2009 with Bayern Munich – and returned soon after each time having failed to secure a permanent spot with the first team. He drew harsh criticism for not sticking it out – in 1999 he was a homesick teenager, in 2005 he was a homesick adult, and in 2009 he was not offered a spot.
   Despite the critics, Donovan continued to shine in MLS and for the US, maturing as a player as well. Having originally played up top, Donovan has shown versatility by playing on the flanks and using his tenacious speed to put defensive pressure on opposing players as well as initiate counter attacks (see US vs. Brazil, Confederation’s Cup Final). His improved play caught overseas attention once more, this time from Everton in the EPL.
   When I heard about Donovan’s potential loan move to Everton, I admit, I had my doubts. Donovan failed to make an impact in the Bundesliga, which is a slightly less skilled version of the EPL. Could Donovan, who stands a mere 5’8” survive the crushing physicality of the EPL? Could he, as an attacking player, show creativity and skill under that kind of pressure?
   The answer is – Yes. Aside from two unremarkable halves, Donovan has continually produced attacking chances for Everton and has become a threat that even the big four teams are worried about. He has the speed and quickness to avoid physical challenges and his ability to break on the counter works well with Everton. His performance in a midweek 2-1 win against Chelsea was perhaps his best ever for any club team as he set up the first goal from a corner, drew a penalty kick that Louis Saha really should have made, and put Ashley Cole under pressure (not to mention drew a yellow card for a challenge on Cole which broke Cole’s ankle).
So what has been the difference between Donovan’s current move abroad and those before?
   For one, Donovan has become more of a consistent player. As a younger player, he tended to drift in and out of games, but is now able to make an impact for 90 minutes. He reportedly takes a more professional approach to every game, even the meaningless friendlies.
   However, I believe that the main issue was confidence. As a young player in 1999 who didn’t see any first team action and was far away from home, Donovan gradually lost his confidence until he was loaned out to the San Jose Earthquakes. In 2005, he started out playing for the first team, but had his differences with the coach, who subbed him out at halftime. In 2009, having initially been brought to Munich by Jurgen Klinsmann, Donovan played a few games but was publically lambasted as a poor solution to Munich’s personnel problems.
   At Everton, Donovan appears to have been given the same type of support from the coaching staff and players as he has received within MLS and the US National Team. With his current run of form, I’d expect him to play well upon his return to MLS and during the World Cup, and perhaps attract a bid for his services during the summer transfer window.


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