With two good showings under Donovan's proverbial belt, a giant monkey is off his back, and it's time to ask, what is the best possible outcome once his loan spell at Everton is finished?
The short and simple answer is to see more of the same of what fans saw over his past two games. It's apparent that Everton's move for Donovan has paid off as the club has acquired competitive depth.
For a team like the Toffees, that depth might be the difference for the season.
But what might be the ultimate outcome for Donovan, his career, and his role on the U.S. Men's National Team?
Donovan must score. He has already come close from out wide, but it's essential he puts a couple in the net.
Part of the reason Donovan's last forays overseas failed may have been due to the fact that more than one player in Europe can support the attack. Teams want goal scorers and game changers. Donovan has to prove that he is one, and there's no better way to prove your worth than to put the ball in the net.
He'll have to do it a couple of times to prove he was worth all the fanfare that came from Everton reaching across the Atlantic for his services. Remember, all English teams have to do is go across the Channel to find loan depth on the continent, and serviceable wingers are a dime a dozen.
Ask Raphael Benitez at Liverpool; instead of splurging on an impact player outwide, he has chosen to acquire journeymen and developing youth talent, neither of which have produced the results he has desired.
When Donovan scores, and scores consistently, he sets himself above the many European applicants for his position. Clint Dempsey can attest to this. Before his injury, he was tied for most goals at his club. Dempsey wasn't going anywhere.
Second: Hold Down a Starting Spot.
It was no surprise that Donovan started out wide. It's his natural position and where he has elevated his game for the national team. But, just because Donovan started two games doesn't mean Everton's manager David Moyes will call his name next weekend.
More than likely, Donovan will still see more playing time as his minutes have increased over two games. Nevertheless, soccer is fickle, and if a player hasn't established a long list of accolades, he could find himself on the bench soon enough.
Donovan needs to keep this run of form for the foreseeable future so that he can establish himself as one of the starting 11.
There's plenty of competition for spots. He can't let up. He must be all in at practice, play well in games, contribute, and get his name on the score sheet. It's good that he's taking corners. It shows he's valued by the manager and the players. Already, he contributes in a way others on the team do not.
Donovan needs to keep laying claim to parts of the Everton attack, be it corners, possession, starting the attack, or being a threat on the counter attack and breakaways. It needs to be clear that Donovan belongs in the starting 11 and gives Everton options that no one else on the bench can add to the team.
He can only improve if he sees the field regularly. Too many recent Americans have seen their careers put on hold because they could not break into the first team.
Recommendation two leads right into three the way goals earn a player a spot in the starting 11.
Donovan needs to develop a niche. He already has for the national team, but part of it is by default. There are few American players with his physical gifts, skills and experience, but that's not the way it is overseas. He needs to take the gifts he's been given and carve out a niche for himself, especially while he's in his prime.
This is what elite players do. When a club considers adding a high profile player, it makes it easier to assess his impact when the team knows exactly how he changes the dynamic on the field.
Many of the top players have prolonged their careers by developing a role multiple teams could use. Gennaro Gattuso, Ryan Giggs, and most famously, David Beckham have all proven their worth and sustained long and productive careers by offering a strong skill set that could be clearly measured.
Donovan needs to do this as well.
It's difficult to tell what Donovan's most important additions are to a team. He can play wing, he can play forward, and he can play withdrawn. He can play on the right and on the left.
Sometimes, it's his attacking runs with the ball at his feet that open up the attack. Sometimes, it's his off-the-ball presence and speed that put him in place to receive an insightful pass. Other times, it's his calculated distribution that's required, and of course, he is expected to score.
It's obvious that Donovan is a versatile player, but while the U.S. Men's National Team needs him to be everything to everyone, eventually, a club is going to want to know exactly what to expect when they purchase his services.
This was one of the purported reasons Donovan failed at Bayern. With all of their other options, the team did not know where to use him, so he didn't see the field.
Now Donovan has the opportunity to develop his game as he moves from his prime into his later years. His speed will more than likely go (unless he is like the ageless Giggs), but he will gain in experience to make up for the physical decline, and his game will have to evolve if he wants to continue to compete. The European market is a great place for his game to mature.
Finally: Don't Get Injured...Please.
If Donovan even partially completes the above tasks, he should be an impressive force for the American team come this summer.
That is, of course, as long as he doesn't fall victim to injury like many of his American teammates. There is a black cloud hanging over the American team, and who knows when it will dissipate or which athlete it will claim next.
Already, it will be difficult for the U.S. to succeed with the rash of injuries to a number of its key players. If Donovan were to sustain a major setback, that would be it for his team, and perhaps, for his European chances. He must stay healthy.
So far, Donovan's taking full advantage of his Everton opportunity which is great to see after his earlier European struggles. Hopefully, it'll continue, and the American National Team will reap the fruits of his labor this summer in South Africa.
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