Donovan to prosper at Everton?

December, 15, 2009

According to reports, a short-term loan deal that would send Landon Donovan to Everton could be completed soon. For its part, Los Angeles has been predictably coy in responding to reports that this season's MLS MVP was negotiating a move to join the struggling Premier League side. But Everton manager David Moyes indicated the two sides are trying to finalize a deal that reportedly would bring Donovan to England at the start of the January transfer window until the end of March, when he would return to the Galaxy for the start of the MLS season.

Will the latest incarnation of rent-a-Donovan result in another disappointing European adventure for the U.S. national team star? Not likely. The opportunity with Everton presents Donovan with something he didn't have at Bayern Munich last summer: a chance to succeed. Last year's loan deal always seemed doomed to fail and it was through no fault of Donovan's. Rare is the player that can show up and walk into a side like Bayern Munich, especially with so little time to make an impression.

Everton presents a much more favorable scenario. Mired in a miserable start to its Premier League campaign, the team is desperate for a spark. While shoring up the back line may seem like the greater need, the team also lacks creativity, industry, versatility, pace and, most importantly, goals. Mikel Arteta, the team's creative influence, has been out with injury. When healthy, Ayegbeni Yakubu and Louis Saha can form a dangerous strike duo, but injuries have made their partnership largely unreliable. And Jo is the rarest of Brazilian strikers in that he doesn't score goals.

Simply put, Everton could use a player like Donovan. He doesn't excel in any one of the areas of the aforementioned players. But as U.S. and Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard intimated in comments on Everton's Web site, Donovan does each of them well enough to be an asset for any team. The fact that he's comfortable playing in a variety of positions in the midfield and up front makes him a useful option in the Premier League. Of course, the million-dollar question always lingering over his head is if he can provide that quality at the highest level. Despite the brevity of his proposed stay, it's likely we'll find out if and when he suits up for Everton.

Joining a team sitting in 15th place, dangerously close to relegation, doesn't seem like a dream scenario. But let's not forget that Everton was the last side to break up the proverbial "Big Four" in England when it finished in fourth place ahead of Liverpool in 2004-05. And with Yakubu (Nigeria), Joseph Yobo (Nigeria), Tim Cahill (Australia), Steven Pienaar (South Africa) and Howard, you've got a team with substantial World Cup representation, so it's not as though the cupboard is bare. In its last two games, Everton drew 3-3 with Chelsea and 2-2 with Tottenham. So while a European place might now be asking a bit much, this team still has enough quality to make things interesting in the second half of the Premier League season.

And the real winner in this deal is the U.S. national team. There's been a slight trend in recent years with more national team players entering the World Cup with European experience. Consider that in the five games the U.S. played in the 2002 World Cup, 12 MLS-based players were on the 23-man roster. As many as six and no fewer than four MLS players featured in the starting 11 in each of those games in South Korea/Japan.

Eleven MLS players traveled to the 2006 World Cup in Germany -- three started in a loss to the Czech Republic, four in a tie with Italy, and three in a loss to Ghana. One of those MLS players, Clint Dempsey, left for England shortly afterward. And while it may have taken longer than many American fans would have hoped, Landon Donovan appears to be set to follow.

Perhaps the numbers are too small to be taken seriously, but I can't help but think the trend toward national team players entering the World Cup with European experience is increasing, however slowly. It's still way too early to know how U.S. coach Bob Bradley will adjust to the injury losses of Charlie Davies and Oguchi Onyewu, but it wasn't long ago that a starting 11 made entirely of European-based players seemed possible, if not likely. In fact, it's easy to imagine a scenario, especially if Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark venture overseas, in which Bob Bradley arrives in South Africa with only a handful of MLS-based players on his 23-man roster.

American fans have long seen team success at the international level and the migration of young players to Europe as being intertwined. Which brings us back to Donovan. Fair or not, he's the standard for which the national team is judged. And the reality is, the greatest talent America has to offer doesn't play against the greatest talent the world has to offer. That's always been a source of frustration for American fans. Clint Dempsey has made himself one of the most important players on a pretty good Premier League team. I'm one of the biggest Dempsey fans, but he's not better than Donovan.

Perhaps now we'll get to see how Donovan fares in arguably the greatest league in the world. He carries higher expectations than any other American player. The easy answer for this is that it's because he's the best we have to offer and American fans would like some confirmation on the world stage of what we see on the national team. Is that so much to ask? Maybe. But we can afford to be demanding. We're entering a World Cup year, after all.



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