MLS / USMNT / World Cup

Donovan’s play in the EPL undercuts the naysayers, strengthens MLS’ ability to lure top talent

Clint Dempsey has certainly made great strides to raise the status of American forwards abroad to the heights of their goaltender counterparts (i.e. Friedel, Keller, Howard) during a solid three full seasons with Fulham. He’s been a mainstay of their attack since a supporting cast role in ’06-’07 that saw him come on late in the season to drop Liverpool 1-0 to keep the Cottagers in the Premiership and was on pace to add several notches to last season’s goal tally of 7 (he led the team with 6 in ’07-’08) before suffering a knee injury in mid-January. But, it’s the inspired play of Landon Donovan that speaks the most of MLS.

Though Dempsey makes a strong case as the best U.S. player – his goal tally in World Cup qualifying matches Donovan and he notched huge goals against Egypt, Spain, and Brazil in the Confederations Cup to shine alongside his teammate – Donovan is as inextricably linked with the U.S. national team as he is with the MLS both in terms of  performance and general perception. The failures of the ’06 U.S. team in Germany were seen largely as a reflection of his own, while his masterful showing at the Confederations Cup has many hoping that he’ll now lead the team much deeper than the round of 8 reached in the ’02 World Cup. His near perennial designation as the top US player since ’02 is equaled by the many regular season and playoff accolades heaped upon him at the MLS level, which speaks to how he represents what the MSL – and the U.S. – can produce. This status was reaffirmed when his misgivings with Beckham over his fickle role with the Galaxy came to light ahead of the release of a book about the English footballer and his role with American soccer.

In his brief stretch at Everton, Donovan has obliterated the criticism – and Ashley Cole’s ankle for the time being – that he is too slight of frame to survive in the Premiership. He’s proven himself in matches against top competition, with his corners and attacking play causing problems for Arsenal and Man City in his first two appearances. He struck gold against Sunderland in his third match, survived the Merseyside Derby, and harassed Chelsea at mid-week; he drew a penalty and found Saha for the equalizer ahead of a 2-1 win.

All the best if the face of MLS signs a long-term deal with Everton. The national team will benefit from a certain improvement in his play. And certainly, all the best for the MLS as well. Sure, Everton can provide a modest fee  compared to whatever a bigger club could offer and what Beckham received from the MLS. But the still fledging stateside league benefits immensely by having it’s top product flourishing among the best in the world. Imagine the impact should Donovan – adjusting to life wonderfully on the right flank rather than his preferred central attacking – help take the Toffees to Europe next season with a finish in the Prem’s top four. Immediately, the appraisal of the MLS and what it can produce will go tremendously higher, heights to which he will only raise with an expected strong showing in South Africa – with a near surefire trip to the 2nd round given the drop-off in their group following juggernaut England, the U.S. can fail only at their own devices in the opening round.

This opens the door for more players such as The Philadelphia Union’s Danny Mwanga to opt for regular playing time in the MLS as opposed to riding the bench and seeing glory only with the reserve squad of some top European club. Though football is all about testing yourself at the highest level and facing adversity head-on, an inadvertent perk for playing club ball stateside is that the intense scrutiny and its impact on player development is nearly entirely absent in a country with so many other sporting diversions. For example, there definitely will not be an inquiry into player depression and burnout in MLS on par with that of the Bundesliga any time soon.

While the Beckham precedent of temporary to potentially permanent loan deals has the potential to entice younger established stars at some point should the MLS continue to garner more respect, it’s more likely, given the MLS’ geographical and scheduling isolation, that the next wave of development will come from keeping home-grown stars like Mwanga (born in the Congo and tenured in the US) here (for some time at least) and hopefully even swaying youngsters to cross the Atlantic. Keep in mind that for every 17-year-old Wayne Rooney that shines at clubs like Everton, there are scores who fall out of favor and are quickly forgotten. Donovan’s continued success in the EPL can make the Atlantic exchange more of a two-way route in the near future.

Next up for him, the Blues, and MLS: Manchester United.

One Comment

  1. Josh Trott says:

    You can look up MLS salaries on the internet. I believe that they make a minimum of forty thousand a year. Looking at the union, a number of starters only pull this much. This is a serious problem when it comes to talent- which follows the money to a large extent. It is ridiculous, in that context, to be paying Beckham five million, and so we’ve got to buy some tickets. And MLS is going to have to start paying its workers a salary that allows for more than survival.

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