Landon’s last shot


Thursday, for a few hours, Landon Donovan was once again the center of the soccer universe. Yearly, or so it seems, I write a piece on Donovan going (or refusing to go) on loan. I’m usually pretty harsh on him. This is mostly because while I believe he has done a great service to MLS and soccer in the USA by staying in MLS, I also believe he has done a disservice to himself. When Brad Friedel surreptitiously called out Landon –or didn’t depending on who you believe, most people grouped into two sides. It was either the Friedel needs to shut up or that Friedel is right camp. I was somewhere in between, and like always I give equal blame to Donovan and MLS.

With the announcement of his loan, on a day when the Portland Timbers signed the first ever DP under the new DP rule, and Lee Nguyen made his entrance into the league, Donovan stole the headlines. In fact, at one point the story of him going to Everton was featured on the main menu bar of ESPN.com, CNNSI.com, Yahoo Sports, and on the ESPN television station ticker. These are places that do not usually talk about soccer, but this is the EPL, and he is Landon Donovan.

The reaction was not to be unexpected. However, questions still remain. What exactly does this two-month loan mean for Donovan? Truthfully, probably not a whole lot. When the loan is up, Landon will return to MLS to help Los Angeles defend their second straight Supporters Shield and their MLS Cup. Yet, I do wonder where exactly Donovan’s heart lies in the situation. Obviously he’s happy in Los Angeles, but he did take to Twitter to type “Once a Toffee, always a Toffee,” in reference to his –apparently– heroic return to Everton.

Honestly, how often do players go on two loans, to the same team, in a three season span? I’d wager that it does not happen too often. Here we have, perhaps, the greatest American player ever, on the cusp of 30, returning to the scene of his most admired club success. I’m sure many Galaxy supporters would argue that his time in Los Angeles is what he should be remembered for, but it is his time during a 10 match loan in Everton that has gained him the most world-wide notoriety. So here Landon is back in Everton. This is the same club that took on Brian McBride at age 31, before McBride played four spectacular seasons at Fulham.

This could be Landon’s last shot at the EPL. The question, however, is not whether he wants it or not. The question is whether MLS and/or AEG would allow it. We have already seen New York deny Tim Ream of being loaned out to West Brom. Ream struggled mightily in New York this season. In all honestly, if he has impressed enough in his short training to get offered a two-month loan, it is more than likely in his best interest to take it. Yet, he is being told he can train, not trial, in England.

Of all the MLS stars going to train in Europe –Kyle Beckerman, Juan Agudelo, Andy Najar, Bill Hamid, etc.– only Donovan and Ream, as far as I know, have been offered a loan deal. Donovan has the name and power within MLS to get loaned. Ream does not. Maybe this is it for Landon. Maybe he can impress so much at Everton that he can force a move to EPL. Maybe that is what he wants. The man never mentions anything about wanting loans, but that does not mean that he does not want one.

MLS, historically, does not like selling its American stars, and no American star has been bigger for MLS than Mr. Donovan. So although it is great seeing Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Maurice Edu sold to foreign clubs they are seemingly the exception to the rule. More often than not we typically see players fulfilling their contracts with MLS and leaving on a free transfer. The current trend for some of the best, young American players is to attempt to ply their trade in Europe instead of putting in four or so years in MLS. Looking at Tim Ream’s situation, we can possibly see why.

Yet, MLS seems to now actively wish to be a feeder league (ed note: Big blog coming on that in a few). They are pursing young DPs. They are investing into academies. They are viewing the college ranks as supplemental instead of all-fulfilling. Tim Ream was a product of the college system, but no one knew him. His time at Red Bull got his name known and is now providing dividends for Ream. It could do the same for MLS if only they would invest in younger talent –even younger than Ream– and allow Landon to go.

Ream does not have the influence or the name recognition to force MLS to do anything, but perhaps Landon does. Perhaps, he goes out and replicates his Everton performance from 2010. Perhaps, he then asks for a sale. Perhaps, MLS does not overcharge Everton for their nominal American star (I’ve heard rumors that MLS wanted upwards of $20 million for Donovan following the 2010 World Cup). Perhaps, that is far too many “perhapses.”

This could be Landon’s last shot. This could be his farewell loan to the big show. If Landon is able to show well, he could put to rest the furor caused by Brad Friedel a week ago. He and Clint Dempsey are relatively even in the eyes of many people. But if Donovan shows up and keeps Everton from truly sinking into the depths he could gain the title of an Everton legend within only two loan stints. Hopefully, if this happens, he will be able to stay.

MLS may have big league aspirations, but they are not there yet. Landon Donovan may have big aspirations, and he is very close. If only the two could meet in the middle, then everyone could come out on top.

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3 responses to “Landon’s last shot”

  1. Pete in LA says :

    Well said. I suspect Donovan settled for the loan and sees it as an opportunity to make a permanent move. But then again, maybe that’s my hopes being inserted into my thinking.

    In any case, though, it’s guaranteed that Donovan will be coming back to MLS. Here’s why:

    No matter how much Everton values Donovan, it is likely nowhere close to the value MLS places on keeping him the face of the league. Relatively few people give much thought to MLS in the US, but to the extent they do, they overstate the level of player the MLS gets, and the level of salaries. The mis-impression they have is created by the presence of a few big name players sprinkled throughout the league, and Donovan is an especially prized one because he’s actually American. I had an extra ticket to the 2011 MLS Cup Final and had a “general sports fan” accompany me to the game, and he was floored that the salary cap was just $2.7M. Donovan’s presence helps MLS from being nailed for it’s piddly salaries. Without Donovan, then maybe what people geeky enough to go over the player salary information and learn the sad truth.

    Donovan’s presence also helps disguise the harm that MLS is doing for the American player under single entity — salary cap rules don’t apply to him because he’s a DP, but how many people know that? There is a shamefully low percentage of league/team revenues that gets paid out in player salaries – something around a 1/3 or less – whereas any other major league sport in the US pays out 50+%, and soccer teams around the world are in the 60+% range. The anti-competitive practices of MLS screw players out of their fair salary (aka the highest amount an MLS team would pay him if competing with other teams for his services), and it’s damaging to the growth of the American player when there’s no way they will ever make good money playing the game domestically. The median salary for MLS players in 2011 was $80,000 — equivalent to less than 1500 pounds a week in English terms.

    • Pete in LA says :

      The reason for mentioning the English equivalent in salary was to make a comparison to the lower divisions in England, which people sometimes compare MLS to. If in fact the quality of play is at the Championship level (Eng. 2nd Div), then they sure aren’t paid similar wages. Average salaries there are in the 5K pound/week range. League 1 salaries (Eng Div 3), I understand, average out to about 1.5K pounds/week. And their teams revenues are generally pretty tiny compared to MLS.

      Bottom line is, while I really want Donovan to move permanantly to Everton (esp. now that he’s won us MLS Cup), I think it would be a miracle if MLS doesn’t put an astronomically high buyout on his contract.

      • Abram Chamberlain says :

        Absolutely agree, though I didn’t know players in the Championship earned that much. Donovan is the most marketable player in MLS, therefore, they will overcharge Everton. In my opinion, he messed up when he resigned with MLS in ’09. I’ve heard that MLS is equivalent to Championship and League 1. Honestly, the top 3-4 MLS teams could probably play a Prem season without being relegated (probably in the lower top half, but still).

        Money is the ultimate factor. Donovan means money for MLS. I have a longer blog in the next few weeks coming out about where MLS actually is (feeder or big time) and how thye need to pick a side.

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