Donovan's Return a Big Plus for MLS

By Paul Gardner

This is an unfortunate moment for MLS. With David Beckham quietly trashing the league, either directly or implicitly, every time he opens his mouth, with Landon Donovan letting it be known that he'd prefer to play in Germany, with FC Barcelona withdrawing its bid for a Miami franchise, the league's image (at least in the eyes of foreign observers) has been suffering.

With the start of the MLS season just two weeks away, however, we are presented with some supposedly good news. We, lucky we, will be getting half a season of David Beckham. So be it. I very much doubt -- after all the shenanigans he's put us through, after he's made it insultingly clear that MLS and American soccer in general are not good enough for him -- that anyone cares whether he turns up or not.

I have decidedly different feelings about the other MLS refugee, Landon Donovan. This is Landon's third attempt to prove that he's good enough to play in the Bundesliga, and it has evidently ended the same way as the other two -- in embarrassing, if not humiliating, failure.

Yes, I'm a bit puzzled by that, because I do rate Donovan highly as a player -- I would rate him one of the best, if not the best American-born player I've seen. Maybe the Bundesliga is wrong for him. Maybe Spain or another of the Latin countries would be more suited to his style. I think that's quite likely -- but I suppose we'll never find out. When Landon returns to the USA this time, it will be for good, I think.

And I mean -- good. For Donovan's return will be good news for the league. This time, I mean real good news. He has been its most consistently lively player for quite a while now. Last year he certainly outshone Beckham at the Galaxy. He is a player worth watching, a player with style and ease to his game, a soccer artist, a goalscorer -- and a playmaker, too.

MLS does not have too many players like that, and the other ones are foreign-born -- Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Javier Morales, Christian Gomez and Dwayne De Rosario.

There are coaches who like to play down the importance of such players. Gary Smith at Colorado is one, he can see no value in Gomez and has happily traded him back to D.C. United. And Colorado, now without a playmaker, is going to play like Arsenal, Smith tells us. Right.

De Rosario is also on the move. He has been such a key part of the San Jose/Houston franchise's success -- an eight-year veteran with the club, a two-time winner of MLS Goal of the Year -- awards that tell you something about his ability to win games, to do the unusual, the surprising, the audacious. His departure for Toronto leaves Houston with an enormous problem.

I can't say I have ever exactly been wildly excited by Houston's playing style, but it has certainly never been dull. Plenty of vigorous action, an accent on offense, a good mixture of long- and short-ball play. All of that borders on the predictable, but it was prevented from falling into that category by the presence of De Rosario, who always promised excitement and originality. The beauty was that he seemed able to function well as a rather anonymous, but essential, team member -- and then to erupt into magnificent, and frequently game-winning, individuality.

Without De Rosario, the running and the effort will continue unabated, no doubt, but Houston will surely be a very predictable team. We saw just that in the two Concacaf Champions League games against Mexico's Atlante. No attempt has been made to replace De Rosario. The young Stuart Holden may play in his place, but he cannot play the same role; he is a straightforward sort of player, lacking the guile and cleverness that make De Rosario so special. De Rosario's presence should galvanize Toronto. His absence may well neutralize Houston.


4 comments about "Donovan's Return a Big Plus for MLS".
  1. , March 5, 2009 at 11:42 a.m.

    I found your article full of pride for U.S. Soccer - I admire your enthusiasm and share your pride for U.S. Soccer. There are coaches, players, parents at all levels of the sport in the U.S. (Youth, High School, College and Professional) that like Beckham are always thrashing the level and proficiency of soccer competition in the US. A word of caution - US Soccer continues to evolve at staggering pace. A lot of talent is coming out our very onwn nurtured youth soccer, High School, College and ODP teams. The future looks more promising for U.S. Soccer than any other place in the world. Mexico once the leader of CONCAF has been already dethroned and progressively U.S. Soccer is becoming a stronger contender of the World Cup. It won't be long when the U.S. Dream Team won't be an allusion to a basketball team, but a soccer team. You must be blind to no see it already knocking on the doors of our soccer sport.

    Edvin Hernandez
    Head Coach of a U.S. Youth Soccer team in Montgomery County Maryland.

  2. Andrew Tucker, March 5, 2009 at 12:54 p.m.

    Landon probably is one of the best. A break away athlete. Science:Matching player strenghs. Owners should treat caring hard workers well. An idea is that owners or players should make a decision to inovate soccer or soccer games. Depressing drums and some dorky techno music is depressing. Euro soccer can be boring. Uncool ness of soccer is almost permanent. Mean logos and the boringness. Start your own soccer assoc. Take away a players postion from the game and have better music. Famine cd,Mr Christian caring is better than any others. A happier life. Thank you, may i have some money. Be careful sincere christians.Alter beliving caring Jesus christ n ldr

  3. , March 5, 2009 at 8:23 p.m.

    As for Beckham, he'll need his bodyguard when the longsuffering L.A. fans see him again. Thanks for nothing, Becks. And anyway wanna buy a Beckham Fathead? I won't be using ours.

  4. Mj Lee, March 6, 2009 at 11:56 a.m.

    Why Landon didn't make it at Bayern: Landon's strengths couldn't get much exposure on Bayern, which is populated with a bunch of guys who like to take players on and dribble with their heads down. Landon makes great single moves on breakaways, but when stood up, he mostly gets out of 1v1's with clever passing. Without someone to pass to, he got dispossessed a fair amount.

    American youth soccer coaches emphasize passing and teamwork over creative 1v1 skills. So when Americans go to Europe, they can't really compete at mid and forward. They don't have the skills that bring fans to shout "Ole!" (or the Euro equivalent), and what we Americans call unselfishness is seen as a lack of confidence at Bayern.

    Brian McBride is the best header in USMNT. Clint Dempsey has the ole flair to earn playing time up front (altho on USMNT, I consider him a selfish player who wastes a lot of shots). Unless American coaches change their style of play to encourage more creativity, our best players will continue to sit on benches overseas. Speed and passing is not enough, especially since our players tend to be small too.

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