Friday, June 23, 2006

Final, Final Postmortem: Go East, Young Men

Good piece on Soccernet laying out the obvious, Landon Donovan must go back to Europe:
He has to decide his professional career and national team career are important enough to him to sacrifice the comfort he enjoys playing in MLS, a league that stopped being a challenge for him years ago. This isn't an attack on MLS. This is reality. For all the strides the young league has made, it still is not equipped to help the truly elite player grow.

Consider that the league's top players face no pressure for their starting job; they play in a playoff system that basically makes most regular-season matches devoid of true significance or intensity. Then there is the general lack of quality of talent as compared with the top leagues in Europe. There isn't an MLS defender Donovan can't destroy.

So where is the challenge supposed to come from for Donovan if he chooses to stay in MLS? The United States doesn't have a high-quality regional tournament to play in like the European Championships, and even World Cup qualifying offers only a handful of truly pressure-packed matches. So while the best players from other countries are honing their skills in the best possible scenarios, Donovan remains content to live the life of leisure.

It is certainly his life and his decision to make, but if he continues to insist on treating his career as something other than his highest priority, maybe it is time to look elsewhere for the U.S. team's next true star. As scary as it is to consider, maybe Donovan just isn't cut out for stardom. Maybe he's just not built to handle the pressure.
I'd say that argument holds true for any of the U.S. players, once they reach the point where they are legit 'stars' in the MLS. (If they go over too young and too early, they are liable to get buried in the reserves, stunting their growth. Not time for Freddy to go just yet.) Some of them will not make it - those that do, will improve. See Eddie Lewis, Bobby Convey and most especially Brian McBride for examples of player's who have improved markedly.

Donovan, is the cautionary tale of the stagnation which can occur from staying home and staying comfortable:
Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky and Ghanaian midfielder Michael Essien played in the same Under-17 World Championships as Donovan just seven years ago. Donovan was the star of that tournament, but Rosicky and Essien are the players who left their countries afterward to hone their skills in Europe's top leagues and stayed there.

Neither player went running back to his home country when things got tough. Both stuck it out, and look at them now. Essien is one of the world's most highly rated players, and Rosicky just moved to English power Arsenal. At this World Cup, each has starred for his country and helped his nation win games.
While Donovan has done, well, f-all.

As I said before, I think Onyewu will be very well served by a move to the premiership - he's got talent, which he demonstrated in the last two games and the English game is the perfect place for him to learn how to use his physical power. Remember, Jaap Stam had a nightmare at the 1998 World Cup, yet was absolutely world class for the next 4 or 5 years, and I think that's a fair comparison on the basis of raw potential.

Update Just for you, Fletch, (via Bill):
"Is it just me, or is Landon Donovan the JJ Redick of US soccer? (i.e overrated douchebag)"

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