Canales Corner: Landon Donovan And You

If you're so happy that Landon Donovan is playing well for Everton that you're ready to forgive him all those years he stayed in MLS, then you probably think this article is about you. Don't you?
You, you there in the blue Everton jersey, eyes bleary from watching Landon Donovan play across the pond in the early hours of this country's time zone. Yes, the spring in your step gives it all away; the proud lift of the chin, the slightly-crazed air of giddiness that sleep-deprivation induces.

The age of Aquarius has arrived for you, hasn't it? Jupiter has aligned with Mars and all is right with the world when the USA's best player is stepping on a field abroad, apparently. 

After all, it was against this dark and turbid disturbance in the soccer universe that you railed at for so long. All those long years you refused to ever buy the USA jersey of a player who didn't play in Europe. There was always that slight cringing every time Donovan scored another goal. After all, wasn't your argument that playing in Major League Soccer was an incredible detriment?

If that was true, how did the goals and assists keep rolling in? How did Donovan keep improving in the league you pegged as useless? Not for you the drive out to the local stadium to support the MLS team nearby or to watch Donovan in person whenever the Galaxy showed up. Better to invest in a premium television package and spend weekend mornings watching USA soccer's best perform in leagues around the world.

Yet Donovan was always the big hole in that assumption and argument - that Europe was where all the top Americans played. A player that had stuttered to zero first-team field action during his early years with Bayer Leverkusen was burning things up in MLS from the moment he first joined as a teenager. Upon arrival to San Jose in 2001, Donovan was handed that precious commodity that all young players really need - regular game time. He made the most of it and improved by leaps and bounds, though he never returned to Europe for any significant length of time. Donovan advanced to become the USA's premier player during his time in MLS, becoming a living, breathing contradiction to your whole, 'a player is nothing unless performing in La Liga, Seria A, or Premiership' thesis. And no matter how you tried to talk yourself out of that conundrum, it stymied you.

You fought it, hard, though, I'll grant you. Remember when that Mexico fan tried to trash Donovan and you came up with more criticisms of Donovan's game than he had? Donovan was too soft; he didn't like to get kicked; he couldn't score in big games; he wouldn't take over enough games; he was oddly superstitious; not enough of a leader. . . By the time that discussion ended, it was the other guy reminding you of Donovan's 2002 World Cup header versus Mexico, after you said Donovan wasn't any good in the air. No one used Donovan's cutting, disparaging nicknames with more enthusiasm than you, even yelling it out during World Cup qualifying games as the Americans took to the field.

Now, what joy, what bliss - Donovan has redeemed himself for you through his loan deal with Everton. Coach David Moyes undertook the massive task of overhauling all of Donovan's bad MLS habits and molding him into a player fit for the Premier League. The arduous process took all of a week, from when Donovan stepped off the plane arriving in England on January 2nd, to when he curled in his first assist on a corner kick versus Arsenal on the 9th. Yes, in his debut for the team, which you watched thinking he might get a few late-game minutes, Donovan not only started, but was entrusted with the task of taking the set-pieces from corners.

Moyes must be quite the magician, bringing Donovan out of his MLS mediocrity so quickly.

You've celebrated that miracle in full force, and not just in purchasing that blue jersey. You've become Donovan's fan on Facebook. You've been posting on Everton's message boards about how you knew he always had it in him, reading up various game accounts, lauding different parts of his play - even his defense! You, who used to say, "The only 'd' Donovan has is in his name."

Although it was once Donovan's fault that he didn't impose himself on USA games often enough, now you curse at his Everton teammates for not passing to him more.

Not long ago, you preached about how Donovan's national team goal-scoring record was based on "cheap penalties". Now, you're advocating for him to take over the Everton penalty kicks duties from Louis Saha.

There's only one thing stopping you from saving your pennies for a dream trip to Goodison Park - and the mere thought of it terrifies you - what if Donovan leaves? He is, after all, there only on loan, and contracted to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

But who is this hometown club of Donovan's to mess with your dreams of glory? Those fantasies of yours take place in the United Kingdom, not the United States. MLS can fall off the face of the earth for all you care - and if it would keep Donovan in England, you'd actually prefer it. After all, Everton just took down Chelsea with Donovan's help, and you're salivating at the club's next encounter versus Manchester United. These are big teams, big names! Who wouldn't rather have an assist versus Chelsea than a hat trick versus the Colorado Rapids?

This desire of yours comes saddled with a veneer of concern for the USA team. Donovan has to stay in England for the sake of his country, you say. Because, after all, Donovan has contributed so little to the national team during his MLS tenure.

He needs to stay with Everton for the national team's advantage, to prove himself against tough opposition, you point out, conveniently forgetting the worthy rivals at the Confederations Cup tournament this past summer, where Donovan shone.

If straight logic won't carry the day, then emotional threats are another resort. If Donovan doesn't find a way to stay in England, you'll never support him while he appears in a Galaxy uniform. He's dead to you as long as he plays for MLS, the league that developed him and invested in him these many years. He owes it to you, after all these years that you've suffered that slight embarrassment of him playing on USA soil, while your soccer friends from abroad told you, "If he was any good, he wouldn't be playing there." That dictum is so profound - on par with "Competo, ergo score" as to be virtually unassailable - and thus, an easy reason for you to agree and decide Donovan wasn't any good.

Put aside the idea that Donovan's pretty much all the player he's going to be at this point - with talent that is visible either on the field in front of you or on the television screen with accented commentary. He's not worth watching, you've decided, if he's going to be playing locally.

Because, after all, it's about you, not him at all.

Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of North America

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