Dear TYAC Reader,
I have a confession to make. I have, in the past, been critical of Landon Donovan. Not his play, as I’ve always loved him on the field, but his decision to stay in MLS always baffled me. I was under the belief that he was complacent, happy to be the big fish in the little pond, insert whatever other clichés come to mind here. Simply put, the phrase “homesick little bitch” may have crossed my lips a few times. But if I criticized him, it was only because I believed in his potential for greatness. Donovan has been blessed with skill far beyond most of his compatriots. He shows his quality, and how important he is to the USMNT any time he plays for the national team, and it’s even more apparent when he doesn’t play.
His quality is showcased by the dramatic turnaround Everton has shown since his arrival mere weeks ago. Back in December, Everton was struggling, on the wrong end of the table, and annoyingly close to the newly promoted teams (and Portsmouth). Since his arrival, Everton has taken 10 points from their last 15 possible and moved into the top half. Donovan’s work-rate has enabled Tim Cahill to get forward more, his ability going forward has enabled Fellaini to stay back where he is most effective, and his mere presence has taken pressure off of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, an undoubtedly talented player, but one coming off of a full Russian season with no time to acclimate to the rigors of the Premiership. Even the erratic Louis Saha has flourished with service Donovan has provided. Hell, even the panelists on the BBC’s ultra-Anglo-centric Fighting Talk have been effusive in their praise for Donovan. It can even be a sign of the respect that the English press are so sure of his pre-eminence in the American squad, they still refuse to fact-check whether or not he’s the American captain (which he isn’t).
Whether or not he wears the armband makes no difference. The US is Landon’s team, tailored to play the type of penetrative, counter-attacking football that he thrives on. As the architect behind the Yanks’ improbable run to the Confederations Cup final, he was involved in almost every goal the USMNT scored with him on the field. Donovan is more than the Yanks’ best player. He is a symbol, not only of the threat the American side poses to the established world powers, but of the USMNT’s ascendancy from football backwater to legitimate threat against the globe’s top powers. If the US is fated to achieve anything substantial this summer, Donovan will need to be at his absolutely incisive, imperious best.
Keith Hickey is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at USArsnl@gmail.com.