Landon Donovan is no Maradona.
Both were transcendent players. Each led their country to a World Cup title, Brazil and Argentina respectively.
Landon Donovan is no Messi.
The F.C. Barcelona striker is generally considered the world’s best player, though he had an off season this year, fighting injuries throughout. He has not led his country, Argentina, to a World Cup title, much to the chagrin of that land’s soccer-obsessed fan base.
But Landon Donovan is the closest, if not really very close at all, America’s had in its less than storied soccer history.
If he were, at the elitist of the elite level of course, we’d deep six the Landon part, and he’d be known among aficionados of The Beautiful Game simply as Donovan.
Casual fans stateside, those prone to confuse Jozy Altidore with one-time major league outfielder Joe Altobelli, don’t know Clint Dempsey from Jack Dempsey, but do know the name Landon Donovan.
Even The Professor, among the few of my sports-loving friends willing to rethink a lifetime of ignoring the world’s most beloved sport, admits, “Landon Donovan is the only American soccer player I know.”
To which he then adds, “He made some big goal, right? A few years back? How can he not make the U.S. World Cup squad?”1
So, in the strange way that unintended consequences often appear, that U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann left the country’s most famous fútballer off the team as it makes its final prep for Brazil has increased the country’s awareness — and hopefully, interest — in the upcoming World Cup.
Frankly, Donovan’s omission shouldn’t have come as a surprise. In the last couple of years, he has talked about his physical and mental exhaustion from years and years of playing, and the pressures involved with performing on the pitch, while also carrying the torch of American soccer. He took time off last year to rejuvenate.
That action is considered healthy for normal people, but is antithetical to the mindset of world class athletes. It has been apparent that it didn’t sit well with Klinsmann, a former player at the highest levels, a World Cup champion for Germany.
Das spiel über alles.
The game over everything.
Klinsmann, one would observe, has never really trusted Donovan. Plus, the coach, in previous stints such as the one as head coach of the German national squad, has never shied away from completely overhauling his squad to his specs.
Reality: It’s probably not going to make a bit of difference in the upcoming World Cup. Should the U.S. survive the round robin with Ronaldo-led Portugal, power Germany and nemesis Ghana, it would be an upset of major proportion. The word “genius” would precede every mention of Klinsmann’s name.
Should the squad falter, it would come as expected. But the youngsters that did make the team will have gained considerable experience for the next time around in four years, when Klinsmann will still be under contract as coach.
Landon Donovan, the competitor, has been somewhat gracious about being left off the squad. Which is to say he hasn’t ranted and raved and called Klinsmann out. He did say he thought he deserved a spot from his performance during the Stanford camp.
For the most part, the public is outraged. As expected.
How dare that carpetbagging Kraut keep our hero off the team?
We’ll see how the team fares in the former but not future star’s absence?
What I do know is that the choice Klinsmann made has generated more pub in advance of next month’s World Cup than might ever have been expected. In the U.S. of A., where soccer is just now starting to begin to commence to becoming possibly a major sport, any publicity is a good thing.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, in other soccer news2 . . .
. . . Real Madrid won the Champions League title yesterday, with a much closer than the final score makes it appear 4-1 W over crosstown rival, Atletico Madrid.
That those two clubs competed for the title was kind of like Brooklyn playing the Yankees in the World Series, back in the 50s. The anticipation in the capitol of Spain was the equivalent of U of L playing UK in the NCAA championship game.3
With, like, three weeks of anticipation, chat room smacktalk, and back alley brawls as a lead up.
It was also akin to Dayton playing Ohio State in the most recent NCAA tourney. In that Real Madrid is a world power of long standing, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to assemble its team. While Atletico Madrid has been much more modest in its expenditures, expectations and success.4
Atletico, playing all but the first nine minutes without its best scorer, previously-injured Diego Costa, led until three minutes into a five minute injury time, after Diego Godin’s goal 36 minutes into the contest.
Withering under Real’s relentless attack late, Atletico finally broke cracked. Sergio Ramos sent it to extra time, with his tying tally. During the final fifteen minutes of extra time, Gareth Bale headed in the winner.5
Marcelo and Ronaldo added late goals against their game but totally spent foe.
That Donovan-less U.S. team gets to deal soon enough with Ronaldo, the only current player spoken of in the same breath as Messi. The United States meets Group G foe Portugal in its second match on June 22, after opening with Ghana on 6/16. Germany’s the opponent on 6/26.
And that, folks, is about as much soccer as I can write about in one sitting.
— Seedy K