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Saturday, October 1, 2005
So, a lot has been going on recently and it's been a while – too long, perhaps – since you have had your say. Since the last mailbag, we've launched our http://www.yanks-abroad.com/content.php?mode=extratime&id=001041Matchmaker[endlink] feature by finding compelling opportunities for Landon Donovan with either Middlesbrough or Ajax, updated our http://www.yanks-abroad.com/content.php?mode=extratime&id=001050predictions for the World Cup Roster[endlink], and run the second part of my http://www.yanks-abroad.com/content.php?mode=extratime&id=001058Sixteen Candles[endlink] feature on how to accelerate the evolution of US Soccer and MLS. Everyone at YA would like to thank you for continuing to send us your thoughts. With so much mail to catch up on, we're going to do this in two parts. First we'll address your comments on Landon in Europe and then next time we'll look at your comments on Sixteen Candles Part Two.

Before I get to your comments, I’d like to briefly wrap up our side of the Matchmaker feature. The goal wasn't for it to be a competition between Greg and me to see who had the better answer. Rather, it is simply a forum for us to present different points of view based on what we know about different European leagues. Furthermore, after reading Greg's analysis, I have to agree that the combination of Amsterdam as a city and Ajax as a place to learn how to play offense is a better solution for Donovan than anywhere in England.

OK, on to the mailbag...

Landon To Spain

We received a number of comments suggesting that Donovan would be a great fit in Spain and would have been happy to include a part of the feature about how he might fit in there. However, because there aren't any Americans currently playing in Spain, our collective knowledge of La Liga is too thin to put forth an opinion on the topic. Fortunately, reader Keyna Brown provided some excellent analysis.

"Spain would be my preferred choice for him. First, Landon knows the language so he will adjust very quickly to his surroundings, build friendships with teammates and be more accessible to the Spanish media. Second, I think his style of play is suitable for this league. Landon is the type of player [who] could play in three positions: strike, attacking midfielder, or on one of the wings. As for club, well don't expect him to be with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Valencia, but there are some other contenders he could consider.

Sevilla - selling Julio Baptista and Sergio Ramos to Real Madrid has given them money to spend and a chance to build this side into one that could challenge for a Champions League spot. Landon would fit in well with them as they have lost that midfield presence and goals that Baptista brought. Plus there would not be so much pressure for him as it would be at Madrid and Barça. He would have the time to grow and become a star.

Mallorca - ok, so not one of the glamorous clubs in Spain, but when you think of this club one name comes to mind: Samuel Eto'o. During his time there he was given what Real Madrid could not guarantee - playing time - and he repaid Mallorca by scoring goals on a regular basis. His game flourished and now he is one of the top stars at Barcelona. If Mallorca can avoid relegation and bring over Landon he will be given the same opportunity as Eto'o. No pressure from the fans or media, plenty of time to develop and if he plays at a superstar level Real Madrid and Barça will be breaking out the checkbooks.

Villarreal - it's funny how that when a highly touted player is released from a big club they always land here. Landon could try his luck with the 'yellow submarines' as they always seem to hit paydirt with the players they acquire. A front line of Riquelme, Forlan, and Donovan would be rather attractive and probably dangerous in the eyes of the Spanish competition. Expections would be high if he were to go there as they qualified for the Champions League so he better bring the goods."

NT – Thanks to Kenya for providing some insight into La Liga and how Landon might fit in there. I really like the Villareal choice.

Quality of Life Over Achievement

Reader Clifford Halstead writes "Has it occurred to anyone that it might be more important for Donovan to be happy and have a good quality of life? Living where he grew up and being in close proximity to family and friends might take precedence over reaching the potential everybody else expects of him. As far as the national team is concerned, it might be for the best if this guy comes to World Cup fresh and happy and rises to the occasion, unlike some of the European powers in the last World Cup arriving tired and burned out and not living up to their potential."

NT - I'll never argue against someone living the life that makes them happy, but if that's his deal, then I'm not sure I want him in a prominent role on the national team. It's not because he can't help. He can obviously bring a lot to the table without going to Europe and continuing to improve his game. My fear is that his seeming contentedness with achieving something less than his full potential will rub off on his teammates and the younger players. He has been more than happy to assume the mantle of "poster boy" for US soccer when it comes to interviews, promotions, and getting paid. In my mind, that role also requires that he do everything in his power to improve, which means growing up and heading to Europe to continue his development. If he doesn't want to do that, it's time to pass the torch to someone else for the ESPN interviews and magazine stories.

Jon Spector, Meet Landon Donovan

George Hasenecz begs to differ with my choice of Boro as the best destination for Landon in the Premiership. I'm not sure I'd call Alan Curbishly a great manager since he can't seem to coax a win out of his players after Christmas, but Mr. Hasenecz makes some excellent points and the consultant in me always appreciates an argument presented via a numbered list.

"I think the best spot for him would be at Charlton.

1) They have a great manager in Alan Curbishly, who seems to get the best out of his players.

2) They play an up-tempo, counter-attacking style that fits perfectly with Donovan.

3) They are an established Premiership side that clearly doesn't have any relegation fears. They also do not have any grandiose expectations that they should be playing in European competitions.

4) It's a fairly young squad that he could fit in with, but they also have seasoned players like Danny Murphy, Matt Holland, Shaun Bartlett and Alexi Smertin from whom he could learn a lot.

5) They're located in London, which is a cosmopolitan city with no language barrier as well having several of his USMNT mates in close proximity. It's also fairly easy to get back to the US from there."

NT – I think point #4 is where Charlton falls apart for Landon. I wouldn't place him in the starting XI over Danny Murphy or Alexi Smertin (the two people he'd be competing with) based on their form so far this season.

The "Other" Side of Liverpool

Sean Donohue sees an opportunity for LD to capitalize on the injuries that have devastated the Everton strikeforce early in the season.

"In my opinion, Donavan should go to Everton. With James Beattie and Marcus Bent out with almost constant injury, Donavan can easily slide in as a first team striker for the club, with guaranteed playing time and UEFA Cup competition. Score a few goals and he may cement his future in the Premiership. The Toffees have the money to spend and they absolutely need a reliable presence up front that Donavan can give."

NT - While neither Beattie's nor Bent's injuries are long term, Everton certainly need to be creative as they think about adding quality to what is a very small squad. I'm not convinced that Donovan can be a lone striker in the 4-5-1 formation that Everton prefers but then again, no one is paying me to manage a team either.

Singing a Different Toon

John Koeller would like to see Donovan in England and he's fired up for Landon to spend some time at St. James' Park “Newcastle! There is no way on earth that Donovan wouldn't be happy about playing alongside [Alan] Shearer and [Michael] Owen. That would be a match made in heaven and would make Souness look like an absolute genius, which lately Newcastle fans have thought him to be the farthest thing from. Make no mistake, that team was struggling desperately without Michael Owen and may yet still have holes. Get Donovan to plug up midfield as a playmaker rather than a forward. With Donovan alongside Shearer and Owen, that team is destined for the top five and, dare I say, maybe even a Champions League spot."

NT - Newcastle would be an interesting choice for Landon, as they are definitely in a period of transition. They are also a very well-known club . Here are a few reasons I think Landon should avoid Newcastle. 1) I'm pretty sure nothing can make Souness look like a genius, least of all a prima donna like Landon. I think that they’d get on just about as well as Souness and Laurent Robert and only slightly better than Souey and Craig Bellamy. 2) A healthy Emre would probably be first choice over Landon and that would be tough for Landon to take. 3) Landon and Michael Owen have similar games (except Owen puts the ball in the net more – a LOT more) and I think they'd find themselves making the same runs more often than complementing each other. 4) Shearer is done after this season. If I were Newcastle, I'd spend my time and money looking for a target man as a replacement.

Another Contrary Point of View

Matt Mitchell opines "In the [grander] scheme of things, MLS is not that bad an option for him right now. He gets to play 90 minutes every game and to be an influence in a strong LA Galaxy locker room. This also benefits the American game in general, as young boys who have a future in professional soccer can see that Donovan, who is regarded by many to be the best American player, plies his trade at home in MLS. Having Donovan play overseas would probably sharpen his finishing and killer instinct, but it would solidify the mindset that MLS is a feeder league for the European clubs."

NT - Two things here:

1) Until MLS finds a way to put a better product on the field, it can't possibly be considered a feeder league for European clubs. Sending a couple guys a year to Europe doesn't a feeder make.

2) I also wonder about the extent to which Landon is an "influence", or at least a positive one, in the Galaxy locker room. As LA and Dallas compete to see which one can sink faster in the standings, you have to wonder what the occasional captain of our national team is doing to stop the bleeding. I haven't been inside the LA Galaxy locker room but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that his current path isn't leading him towards being the next Roy Keane or Michael Jordan - willing his team to victory with leadership and force of personality - and I don't see anyone in LA who will help him get closer to that goal.

Another Vote for Spain

Scott Monette writes "I think Landon should play in the Primera. I am not convinced his best role is as attacking midfielder, but more of a withdrawn forward in a 4-4-1-1. I would like to see him play for Valencia, to play in the role Pablo Aimar plays in. I think Pablo is in his last season at the Mestalla and with his history of injuries, he would have a chance to step in the role as playmaker. He speaks Spanish and would like the weather."

NT - If he could fill Pablo's shoes, I'd feel a lot better about him heading in to the World Cup.

And Another Vote for Holland

John Crean thinks "Landon's problem with Europe was not about his football skills. He became uncomfortable with the coaching strategies and manipulations. The climate also may have had an impact, but a lesser one. PSV is the place for LD. Gus [Hiddink] is offensive minded and unafraid to challenge the 'norm'. Plus, having another American with him would help with the transition."

NT - Is there anyone other than Bruce Arena that Landon DOES like playing for? Rumors out of LA have him disenchanted with Steve Sampson's coaching. I'm not a huge Sampson fan but after a while, you have to wonder if it's the coach or the player.

While I'm finishing up the second part of the mailbag, we'd love to hear from anyone who watched the Under-17 World Championships and has an opinion on the future of US soccer based on what they saw there. I know I saw some positive signs and some worrying ones.

If you have comments on that or anything else, http://www.yanks-abroad.com/content.php?mode=contact&action=show§ion=generaldrop us a line[endlink].
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