One of America's greatest goalkeepers had some sharp words for Landon Donovan earlier this week, setting alight soccer message boards and blogs.
UCLA product Brad Friedel, 40, a former U.S. national team star who has played in England since 1997 and now toils for Tottenham, was praising Clint Dempsey for becoming the English Premier League's top American goalscorer when he suddenly bashed the U.S.'s best-known and most accomplished player.
The beef: Donovan plays in Major League Soccer.
“You get a player like a Landon Donovan, who in my opinion chose to take the easy road and stay in the States,” Friedel, Donovan's teammate on the U.S. side that reached the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, told the BBC's World Service on Tuesday (first reported state-side in The Sporting News). “It’s much harder to ply your trade over here.
“[The English Premier League] is the best league in the world to play in, and this is where [Dempsey] got better, in my opinion. This is where he became one of the best the United States ever produced.”
Dempsey is fantastic -- he and Donovan and are the two finest field players this country has produced -- and his goal Monday to lift Fulham past Liverpool is worth noting. It was his 37th in EPL play, the most by a Yank, surpassing the 36 Brian McBride netted in his tenure with the London club.
Donovan, 29, has been criticized before for choosing MLS over superior European leagues, and his choice surely has been informed by poor experiences in Germany, as a teen with Bayer Leverkusen, with which he signed at 16, and in a 2009 loan spell with Bayern Munich.
He went to the EPL, to Everton, on loan in 2010, and was a revelation, winning the Liverpool-based club's Player of the Month honor, winning acclaim from teammates and fans, and prompting the club to look deeply into the possibility of bringing him on full-time.
Donovan wasn't opposed to such a move, but his contract with the Galaxy and MLS, which pays him $2.3 million a year, runs through the 2013 season, and the club and league don't want to give him up. His transfer fee has consistently been above his worth, because he's worth so much in the U.S. on the marketing side.
That's part of what Friedel railed against.
“The profiling in the States sometimes is a lot more to do with sponsorships than what you actually do on the field,” Friedel said. “And listen, I’m not trying to take anything away from Landon, because Landon has been absolutely magnificent for the U.S. as well. I’m just saying he gets a lot more notoriety because it’s sponsorship-driven over there.”
Donovan's achievements shouldn't be minimized. He's been a force in the American game since he led the under-17 team to the World Cup semifinals in 2009, winning the Golden Ball as tournament MVP.
He's played in three World Cups -- he was fantastic in 2010 -- is the U.S.'s all-time scoring leader (with 46 goals in 138 international games) and is universally lauded as the best player MLS has employed, with four MLS Cup crowns, an MVP award and scoring title, 115 regular-season goals (third all-time), 94 assists (sixth all-time) and a record 20 playoff goals, the last one carrying L.A. past Houston in last month's MLS Cup final.
Donovan returned Wednesday from the Galaxy's postseason trip to Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia, and he has not responded to Friedel's remarks.