January 2010

Donovan: One Of Moyes’ Boys

Landon Donovan began the new year by trading in the sun of southern California for the snow of north London. In his first Premiership outing, the 27-year-old on-loan Yank was dropped into a heavy match in even heavier weather conditions. Lando was unlucky enough to draw a starting spot against Arsenal in conditions nasty enough to cause cancellations of all but two of the weekend’s EPL matches. The matches were called off for the safety of the fans in transit and the blue side of Liverpool might have wished the same for themselves, for Everton’s trip to the Emirates never looked safe following Arsenal’s 6-1 opening day thrashing of the Toffees at Goodison Park.

A quick analysis of Landon’s play reveals nothing too spectacular; however, given the circumstances of weather, level of opposition, lack of match fitness, and general unfamiliarity, I’ll take that as brilliant. Add to that the fact that he had a hand in contributing to the scoreline and you would have to say his first go in his royal blue number 9 kit was nothing short of miraculous. Of course if we see this same level of performance six weeks from now, we would clearly have to grade on a different curve. Was this the best LD has shown? No. Was it a bumble-fest resulting in giveaway-after-giveaway, one of which lead to a fustercluck own goal after which Landycakes was given his second yellow for proclaiming “John Lennon was deader than Jesus”? NO! Although I can’t say for certain about the Lennon part, I can say this was a good jumping off point for our little boy so far from home.

On the ball Donovan’s passing looked safe, if not a bit undercooked at times. Running off the ball he seemed a bit out of sync with his mates, especially early on in the match; I can think of moments where Cahill went looking for support and Neville needed Landon to show: both had to search longer than necessary. His delivery on the corner that Leon Osman headed home is to be lauded, but the goal hangs more on the Arsenal backline, which has had its issues dealing with set pieces. Mind you Osman, who measures in at less than 5-foot-7, is barely tall enough to reach Donovan’s receding hairline. Landon did manage to keep it together for the better part of his 69 minutes and did appear to be growing in confidence toward the later portion of his stint. He got a good look at the game, and credit to Moyes (more on this in a second) for setting Landon up to have every opportunity for success.

Defending, oh my. It is no longer acceptable for him to clear out of the back MLS-style. A silly LD giveaway coming out of the defensive third lead to an immediate half-chance for the Gunners; Everton’s backs were sorting themselves out in preparation for the transition only to have to scurry back to recover and properly clear. Soon thereafter a weak LD headed clearance out of the box (up the middle – thank you very little), accompanied by some half-hearted leg challenges, led to Arsenal’s equalizer. I would think these mistakes will abate proportionately to the increase in the level of understanding and communication with his mates.

Landon left the pitch at 1-1 to an ovation from the Everton faithful and a “well-in-lad” handshake from his boss. His exit gave him a front row seat to all the drama, as the match went on to finish 2-2. First, Steven Pienaar was set free in an empty Arsenal half by a brilliant Tim Cahill ball. Pienaar was behind the last Arsenal defender but in his own half when Cahill gifted him the pass that sent him on a 1v1 with the gloved Almunia. The Everton man coolly lifted one over the onrushing keeper and celebrated with a “Dance of Exhaustion” following his sprint. The other Yank in action, Toffee keeper Timmy Howard, was unlucky to have to pick a SECOND deflected ball out of his net; this one coming from substitute Rosicky who was last seen tormenting Kasey Keller in Germany 2006.

Back to the real issue: Lando to Everton! Ok, the real issue behind the issue is: with LD having so much trouble finding success in Europe, why should we get excited about his Merseyside vacation during which the most he might accomplish is a few prank calls to Fernando Torres? In a word: DAVIDMOYES!!! In a man: David Moyes. Three times (2003, ‘05, and ‘09) Moyes has been LMA “Manager of the Year,” an honor voted on by his fellow coaches. A midfield man and student of the game, Moyes in renown for bringing players to his squad that serve a purpose and stick in the lineup. At Everton, names like Tim Howard, Joleon Lescott, Andy Johnson, and Steven Pienaar to list a few. Yes, Everton is currently in need of some bodies, but Moyes is unlikely to pick any-ol’-body. Moyes is ready for Donovan.

Prior to Everton DM did wonders at Preston North End, where he took over relegation-threatened Division Two PNE midseason and avoided the drop. A scant three seasons later PNE was in the Playoffs for promotion to the Premier League. It was during that time that Moyes first brought in Yank Brian McBride on loan; Bake so impressed that Moyes called on him again in 2003 for a loan stint at Everton where the hard working Yank scored 4 times in 8 appearances.  Whence came McBride on both occasions? Yup, the MLS.  Moyes is ready for Donovan.

I was pleasantly surprised to tune in on Saturday and see that Lando had made the starting XI, but a bit worried when it was announced he was listed as a front man paired with striker Louis Saha. “Oh no,” I thought, “Moyes did not drop him in as a straight up replacement for (out of favor Brazilian) Jo.” Crap! It’s going to be Bayern all over again! Last year during a similar loan spell to the Bavarian giants I was repulsed by Klinsmann’s use of Donovan as a man-for-man replacement for the injured Luca Toni. The Italian is a 6-foot-5 born-and-bred striker with no interest in playing anywhere but in-and-around the box. What part of that is Landon Donovan? The “winning headers” part? The “tight spaces” part? The “back to goal” part? No part of it! Lando wants to run. Lando wants to see the field. Landon wants to feel the wind flowing through what remains of his hair; which is why I was relieved to see that the opening whistle last Saturday found him lined up on the right flank. Oh yeah, Moyes is ready for Donovan.

What does it mean? It means that if Landon Donovan really does have the desire to move away from SoCal just to play a higher level of football, he will never have a shot to impress better than the one he has now. No team is more deserving or in need of his services, no coach will work him into a lineup as well, no teammate will be more empathetic than Timmy, and no set of fans could be more prepared to embrace him than those of “The People’s Club.” Even captain Phil Neville has gone so far as to say Donovan’s play “suits the team perfectly.” For Donovan, Everton really is NIL STATIS NISI OPTIMUM: nothing but the best.

Doug Beard