Will the next Landon Donovan play in MLS?

By Paul Kennedy

MLS fans have four more months to watch Landon Donovan before he retires from soccer. He will leave as the greatest male player the United States has ever produced, and MLS has been lucky that he played all 14 seasons of his pro career in MLS. But will it be so lucky when the next Landon Donovan comes along?

If he had not been homesick, he might not have left Germany after one season with Bayer Leverkusen. And his second spell at Leverkusen ended after only three months as he returned to MLS on a permanent transfer, this time to the LA Galaxy, for which he has played ever since (with three short offseason loan spells abroad).

At the time, the trend was for Americans to leave for Europe, and Donovan in 2005 said they did a disservice if they didn't stay or return to help grow MLS. Almost a decade later, those Americans are now staying or returning thanks in large part to the commitment of MLS clubs to make them offers as good or better than they could get abroad. But none of them was Donovan of his youth, a player who could write his ticket to any club he wanted.

The great problem for MLS is that the next Landon Donovan might come along and there is nothing it could do to keep in the league. We see it now with the younger national teams whose best players are all being picked off by clubs abroad. The rising U.S. U-17 national team might be the most promising U-17 team since Donovan's team finished fourth at the 1999 Under-17 World Cup, but almost all its best players have already moved abroad.

The latest is 15-year-old Christian Pulisic, who scored six goals in his first four games at the Copa Mexico de Naciones in Mexico City and is finishing up the paperwork to sign with Borussia Dortmund, which already has the best player of the last U-17 cycle in Junior Flores. Along with 18-year-old Emerson Hyndman, who debuted Saturday for Fulham, they may be the closest thing we have to future Landon Donovans right now.

There is, of course, no guarantee these players will all pan out, but if they do, it would be hard to imagine that they'd turn around and join MLS at a young age. Probably the biggest impediment to the next Landon Donovan leaving is that he doesn't have the right kind of passport necessary to work abroad. But a lot of things will have to break in MLS's favor for that new star to stay at home.

As it is now, there is little MLS can do to stop the exodus of young stars allured by all foreign clubs have to offer.

Henry shows respect, fans reciprocate

The irony of Donovan's retirement announcement was he had come on for Thierry Henry after the start of the second half of Wednesday's MLS All-Star Game so the Frenchman could exit to an ovation from the Portland fans. Henry has made no announcement about his future -- his five-year contract with the New York Red Bulls expires after this season -- but all indications point toward his retirement.

MLS all-star coach Caleb Porter said he and Henry agreed on second-half switch. “I felt he deserved that tribute to start the second half no matter what his future is,” Porter said. “He's been great for the league and he's done a lot for the sport in this country and has had a wonderful career and I felt he deserved this tribute.”

After the game, Henry walked alone around the Providence Park field and saluted the crowd as if he was saying good-bye. All throughout the All-Star Game week, Henry was in rare form, joking around and praising everyone and everything around MLS. The media marveled at his knowledge of MLS and its players. That same encyclopedic knowledge of soccer in his younger days earned him the nickname "France Football" (after the Paris soccer magazine) from his teammates on the French national team.

Henry's tenure in New York has not been easy, and he has not always handled it well, but he has gone out of his way to show his respect for MLS and what it is trying to accomplish. Those players who are coming here or are thinking of coming here can learn a lot from him.

Our pick six

MLS might be the deepest it has ever been at the No. 10 position. It would be hard to find a better group of six players than the six Argentines who play the position, and they didn't have a bad week.

The latest to join the league, Matias Perez Garcia, scored in his debut for San Jose Friday night. Diego Valeri scored another golazo in his fourth game in a row with a goal for Portland on Saturday, and Federico Higuain also scored for Columbus in its loss to Toronto FC.

The best of the Argentine playmakers may be the youngest, Mauro Diaz, who started his first game in three months for FC Dallas on Saturday -- a 3-1 win over Colorado -- after coming back from an injury. The dean of the Argentine playmakers, Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales, had two more assists to give him nine for the season, second in MLS behind Henry.

Mauro Rosales was shut down in Chivas USA's 2-0 loss at Portland, but he already has eight assists this season to match his total for the entire 2013 season with Seattle.

Firing of the week

After English League Championship (second division) Huddersfield opened its season Saturday with a 4-0 loss at home to Bournemouth, falling behind after just 26 seconds, its manager, Mark Robins, said, "It's still early days and we dump this result in the waste bin and move on." Huddersfield's directors decided to move on and dumped him.

Reading list

A few articles on soccer and other topics definitely worth reading ...

-- Jason Quick of the Oregonian writes about Jim Serrill -- Timber Jim, the first mascot of the Portland Timbers -- and why Timbers fans sign "You Are My Sunshine" in the 80th minute of every game.

-- Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times reports from Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis have be trapped after escaping from ISIS fighters sweeping through villages across northern Iraq and executing those they capture as apostates.

Food scene

Trucks and carts supporting soccer ...

-- Bunk Sandwiches (@bunksandwiches) was serving late at the Bumpy Patch after-party following the All-Star Game in Portland. (The Cubano sandwich was excellent.)

-- Papaya King Truck (@PapayaKingTruck) was at Brooklyn Bridge Park for the New York Red Bulls' viewing party for Sunday's match at Chicago. (Papaya King, whose fans have included The Beatles, Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain and Martha Stewart, went into the food truck business this summer.)

(Tweet @SoccerAmerica with your favorite food truck or cart at your games.)
3 comments about "Will the next Landon Donovan play in MLS?".
  1. Noe Bastidas, August 11, 2014 at 10:57 a.m.

    The answer is, no. The answer should be, yes. Why would a technically gifted soccer prodigy choose the MLS, where a culture of stewardship is non-existent?

    The issue: MLS is not a league conducive to developing young talent. The league is still plagued by kick-and-chase soccer, where physical play, brute athleticism and ‘play-on’ officiating is the norm. Additionally, the MLS reserve league is competitively weak and does not create a culture of development either.

  2. peter mcginn, August 15, 2014 at 11:20 p.m.

    Paul you make it sound like a bad thing... are you kidding me! The best Spanish Basketball players are in the NBA, the best Argentinian...again the NBA. The best brazilian soccer players are in Europe the best Uruguayans, Peruvians, Japanese, Aussie;s, Koreans, Iranians. Ghanans...guess where they play...not at home my friend.

    We have a American kid at the barcelona academy one at real madrid...We have the Gooch kid at Sunderland, Pelosi at Liverpool and all the guys you mentioned . This is a Golden Age of soccer and there will be more U.S. trained kids going to Europe at younger and younger ages. The Sounders outside back just got signed to the premier league after showing his stuff at the world cup...home grown player I think that came up throught the Dev academy got sold to Europe...that is the big leagues and that is how it is supposed to work. Guys have come home early...Dempsey still had a few Premier league years in him but wanted to come home and as the MLS gets richer they will be able to offer their fans some "Donovan" level players even in their prime and after honing their skills in the biggest leagues on the planet. That is what fans want. We will also be able to get really good African and Latin American players who will want to play here for the openness and natural draw that is the U.S. Don't lament the loss of future LDs embrace it. It is a good thing.

    Look at the San Antonio Spurs...filled with foreign players and played some of the best basketball in the history of the NBA finals. Awesome. Manu Ginobli legitimizes Argentina as a source for players he is one of the most widely respected basketball players in the world and he honed his chops in with the best. Marco Bellinelli, Tony Parker....the U.S. wants players in support roles and starring in the Champions League and at the biggest clubs in Europe. Tony Parker is not Tony Parker if he stays in France. He is just a dude and not one of the best pt guards on the planet.

    Kennedy your a worry's all good.

  3. Rick Estupinan, August 17, 2014 at 6:19 p.m.

    Before they join to play in the under 17,they should be made to sign a contract that they will have to play for the National team until the age of 23.After that age,they can sign for a any team that would offer them more money.If they are worth what they are being offered,the MLS,can then can keep them by making them a better offer.

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