Join Now  | 
Home About Contact Us Privacy & Security Advertise
Soccer America Daily Soccer World Daily Special Edition Around The Net Soccer Business Insider College Soccer Reporter Youth Soccer Reporter Soccer on TV Soccer America Classifieds Game Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalk Soccer America Confidential Youth Soccer Insider World Cup Watch
RSS Feeds Archives Manage Subscriptions Subscribe
Order Current Issue Subscribe Manage My Subscription Renew My Subscription Gift Subscription
My Account Join Now
Tournament Calendar Camps & Academies Soccer Glossary Classifieds
Dynamic Donovan Drove USA
by Ridge Mahoney, June 30th, 2009 11AM
Subscribe to Soccer America Confidential



After watching him work and sweat and dart and chase and tackle and fight and pass and score in five Confederation Cup games, I have to say Landon Donovan didn't surprise me.

That Donovan has never before played so well and so hard for so long - not even at the 2002 World Cup, played shortly after his 20th birthday - can't be blamed on him, really, though his last two failures with German clubs do tend to cast some fault in his direction. He's a product of his environment, Major League Soccer, which can only push top players to certain points, after which greater pressure, intensity, risk, consequences, etc., are required.

When during a postgame press conference he expressed what a challenge and a thrill it would be play in Spain, should a club from that country come calling, it reminded me of what I wrote a few years back; that the technical, fast, demanding, stylish, flowing soccer played by most La Liga teams would suit him nicely. Along with his mastery of Spanish, it would seem to be, if not the ideal fit, a much better option than the more rigid, harsher labors of the German Bundesliga.

But what did impress me about Donovan was his commitment, his heart, his passion, his drive, which reminded me of what the American team often misses when another of its longtime veterans is absent. In the first two group games against Italy and Brazil, the USA still may have lost, but I seriously doubt if it would have looked as listless and lost had Frankie Hejduk been on the field, or even on the bench. He simply wouldn't have allowed it to happen.

Hejduk is who I was reminded of when Donovan drove into a tackle, or took off on a run, or scythed through challenges on the dribble, and when I saw Egypt play Italy and Brazil, or South Africa play Spain, or even New Zealand against Iraq. Every game, indeed every moment on the field, is sacred, and if you don't play as if everyone in your country is watching, you're in trouble, because nobody on the other team is holding anything back. Against talented opposition, you need a lot more than grunts and groans, yet had not the USA rocked Egypt back on its heels with pressure from the kickoff and fire and bite and an early goal, no way it gets a chance to stun top-ranked Spain in the semis.

The New Zealand players and coaches celebrated as if they'd won the competition after tying Iraq, 0-0, in its final group game. With no chance to advance, all the Kiwis wanted was something tangible to take home to soften the ignominy of a 5-0 pasting by Spain and 2-0 loss to South Africa. To their fans and their country, they owed their absolute best effort.

Unlike the Americans, the Kiwis can't count on coming back for the big show next year, so this was most likely their only showcase. Red cards and bad luck may have plagued the Americans in their first two games, and nobody accuses them of throwing in the towel, but aside from Donovan and a few others, there was more fizzle than fight.


There's a difference between playing hard and throwing heart and soul and family and country into every confrontation, and when the Americans raised their zeal to level 10 against Egypt and Spain and Brazil 2.0, nobody could fail to notice, and marvel at, the change.

The Americans, of course, don't rivet the nation's attention when they play, and those who toil in MLS aren't as well-equipped as their foreign-based counterparts to take on the world's best. Yet still Hejduk's energy and enthusiasm skew off the charts, and the U.S. coaches have to hold him back rather than wind him up.

At the Confederations Cup, Donovan showed that commitment and desire must well up from within regardless of external forces. Not every player can fly about the field like a Hejduk, or roar into crunching tackles like a Jay DeMerit, or buzz past defenders like Donovan, but for a team like the USA there can't be anything less than everything.

While coaching the U.S. hockey team that shocked the Soviet Union en route to its gold-medal triumph at the 1980 Olympic Games, along with many other bromides that have become legend, the late Herb Brooks told his team, "You haven't got enough talent to win on talent alone."

At times in the past, for club and country, Donovan did well enough by doing what he could. In South Africa, he did a lot more.


  1. David Sirias
    commented on: June 30, 2009 at 11:17 a.m.
    Spot on. Donovan is the chosen one. Like most guys he might have been a little slow on the maturity curve, but he's arrived. That he would openly state his desire to leave for Europe is proof that he's accomplished as much as he can personally and professionally in MLS and indeed wants out. I believe MLS has two more options years on his contract. MLS should not stand in the way of any reasonable transfer offers after this year. It's in MLS's best interests in the long run if Landon thrives in Europe. Can you imagine the trio Donovan, Aguero, and Forlan with Athletic Madrid flying towards the opposition goal? You get the drift....

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now



Recent Soccer America Confidential
Whitecaps own up to their shortcomings in 2016    
The plight of defending champion Portland has been a running saga all season yet its foe ...
Drogba and Saputo show the power of 'big personalities'    
Players on big salaries often bring along big egos as well. Montreal owner Joey Saputo has ...
What was the value of the USA's bumpy win in Cuba?    
The USA's 2-0 win in a friendly over Cuba on Friday marked its first return to ...
Paul Arriola takes advantage of opportunities for USA    
On and off the field, fast starts are normal for Paul Arriola. He scored a goal ...
Options could lead to makeover of U.S. midfield    
Strong performances by several players in friendlies against Cuba and New Zealand could create a logjam ...
Bob Bradley steps into a tough new world    
Last season, 11 of 20 Premier League clubs changed managers, including major stars such as Louis ...
New NASL owner expects to see difference in how league operates    
The interlocking and overlapping elements of North American pro soccer are among the issues facing owners ...
So far, Jordan Morris' decisions have been the right ones    
U.S. forward Jordan Morris turned down a move to German club Werder Bremen, which is rooted ...
MLS Playoff Watch: Breaking down the Eastern Conference's battle of bubble teams    
With a month of the regular season to be played, no Eastern Conference team has clinched ...
Strenghtened Sounders set aside distractions to focus on postseason quest    
The midseason arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro and the return to fitness of Roman Torres has bolstered ...
>> Soccer America Confidential Archives