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.