"It was kind of like in that movie 'Dumb and Dumber', where the man says that there is a chance, it's just one in a million." That is how LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena described the chances of Landon Donovan remaining with Everton until the end of the Premier League Season.
Now, his amazing movie reference aside, Arena is surely being cursed by American soccer fans from Providence to Aspen for his stubborn stance on his captain’s immediate future. Lloyd Christmas never did land Mary Swanson, and it appears that come Mar. 15, Landon will be back at home in LA getting ready for another MLS season, and you know what? That’s just fine.
There is no question that Donovan’s stay with the Liverpool club has been an exciting stretch for American soccer fans. From his very first match against Arsenal, Landon looked as though he had been with Everton for years. In the next few games, it became nothing short of amazing just how well Donovan seemed to not only fit in with his new side of world class players, but flourish.
He has consistently been their most dangerous player on the wing and his the combination of his soccer IQ, field vision, and blistering speed have made him an instant star with the Goodison Park faithful; and why not? The team is 5-0 on their home pitch since his arrival.
Last weekend, Donovan was given a hero's farewell by the Everton fans who have more than embraced their 10 week rental. In the wake of the Arsenal game, he seemed a suitable addition to an injury-ridden squad.
However, by the time Everton had come from behind to beat the then-league leaders Chelsea a few weeks later, he was a sensation. That night, Donovan was the best player on a field full of high profile international stars and suddenly the stigma surrounding America’s best player, stemming from past failures in Europe, had all but vanished.
From frequent chants of “U-S-A” to the creation of a Facebook group pleading for the Everton brass to work out an extension of their deal with LA, Donovan has surely left his mark on this Premier League season with the Toffees.
The 10 weeks, however, have been enough and it is indeed time for Landon to come home. Now, let me just say that I do not necessarily want Landon Donovan to come back to the MLS.
In fact, it pains me to think that in a few weeks we’ll be back to watching him battle foes like a certain hometown team of mine that is named after this generation’s version of Jolt Cola rather than the likes of Man U and Liverpool. However, at the end of the day, his safe return stateside is the right move for several reasons.
For one thing, he really has nothing left to play for at Everton. He has proven himself worthy against the world’s elite as he was arguably Everton’s best player for their toughest stretch of the season. Everton also sits eighth in the Premier League, has been eliminated from the Europa League and has little hope of returning to European football next season.
So, in the realm of “proving” his talent to his critics and himself, Landon has accomplished that in spades. Unless the United States get embarrassed in South Africa as a direct result of numerous misplays by Donovan himself, he will surely have lucrative and exciting opportunities waiting for him in the next transfer window.
In fact, there are already wide-spread rumors that Chelsea is eyeing a bid for the American if they fail to sign Joe Cole to extension at season’s end (Cole is expected to leave for Manchester United on a free transfer).
Although this is simply a rumor and may not ever come to fruition, it serves as a clear indication of just how far the regard for Donovan’s game has come in the last 10 weeks.
Another reason Donovan should come home is his health. While it is still way too far away to know whether or not this will be Donovan’s last World Cup, one thing is indisputable: The US cannot survive an injury to Donovan this summer.
There is obviously no guarantee that Donovan will not get hurt playing in the MLS while preparing for South Africa, however, it is much more likely he would sustain an injury in the much more physically demanding Premier League.
The last thing I need on a hung over Saturday morning in April is to wake up and see a recap of Donovan being taken off on a stretcher.
I thought I was at my limit when Clint Dempsey went down against Blackburn, but after watching Stuart Holden break his leg against the Dutch last week (thanks to a late and arguably red card-worthy challenge from Premier League player, Nigel De Jong) I would be holding my breath anytime Donovan took the field from now until May.
Not only is he not a physically imposing player, but with his style of play dependent on his speed and work rate, it is not rare for him to be the victim of late and dangerous tackles.
This past year saw Donovan’s confidence and form soar to new heights with a win over the Spaniards in the Confederations Cup, an MLS MVP award, and an outstanding loan spell with Everton. This means, however, that he has been playing essentially non-stop for over a year.
Although he is still just 28, one would have to imagine that all of this playing, especially in England, is slowly taking its toll on his body. With several months still to go until the World Cup, it is more than possible that he will be feeling the effects in South Africa.
Basically, I am just not sure what another few weeks risking his health, his legs, and that sky high confidence is going to do to prepare a man that had 100 caps at the age of 26 and already has two World Cups under his belt.
Finally, the elephant in the room: David Beckham. I LOVED when Donovan came home from the Confederations Cup last summer and news broke that he had blasted his teammate for raising his nose at the American league in favor of extending his loan with AC Milan. Landon was completely right in what he said and it was a rare display from an otherwise soft spoken, hardworking professional like Donovan.
Although Landon and Beckham are at completely different stages of their careers (Landon settling into his prime and Beckham grasping tightly to the last life in his once magical right leg), the similarities in their reluctance to leave a top-flight league for the MLS are too obvious to ignore.
In fact, one could easily argue it is worse with Donovan doing it this season, not only because he is clearly a hypocrite after finding his own club success abroad, but because he is now the captain of a side that narrowly missed bringing home the MLS Cup last year.
If Donovan’s main concern last year was Beckham’s level of commitment to the Galaxy, then how can he possibly turn around and snub his team only months after signing a four-year extension?
Ideally, Landon stays healthy, plays well this summer, and Everton is forced to cough up the money to convince the MLS to let him go for good. While several other clubs with more flexibility will most likely find the funds to make such a move, Everton should be his first choice. He is comfortable with the squad, trusted by the manager, and beloved by the club’s supporters.
Although a strong performance and a goal on June 12 could change that last factor, it is clear that Goodison is a place for him to flourish and finally raise the expectations of American players in Europe’s top leagues. Let’s just hope that sequel is a little better than Dumb and Dumberer.