This was the kind of game Landon Donovan was never going to get in MLS. The kind of passion and intensity that was on display in Liverpool's 1-0 win over Everton on Saturday could be replicated only perhaps on the international stage (see: U.S.-Mexico). In the American professional setting, something akin to the Merseyside derby isn't to be found.
Positive (and even rave) reviews have followed Donovan since he has suited up for Everton. His manager, David Moyes, and the English press have recognized his contributions to Everton's recent good form. But he had yet to face a challenge like that when Everton visited Anfield in one of the English game's most impassioned rivalries.
Whoever coined the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" probably knew something about Liverpool-Everton. With all due respect to Chivas-L.A. Galaxy -- and despite the best efforts of sincere supporters and eager marketers in MLS front offices -- that flagship MLS derby is only a pale imitation of what was on display Saturday. Although few doubted Donovan's ability to play in a top league such as England's, it's in games such as these that top players thrive, on the kind of stage that few American players have found themselves.
All it took was a savage tackle early in the game by Everton's Steven Pienaar, a South African, on Liverpool's Javier Mascherano, an Argentine, to illustrate that this rivalry doesn't discriminate on the basis of nationality. The color of the shirt will do.
So what of the American wearing the No. 9 blue shirt? If forced to offer a grade of his performance, I'd be inclined to offer an incomplete. It's not that he played poorly or made costly mistakes. His poke through Mascherano's legs early in the first half earned Everton a dangerous free kick and was probably the best display of individual skill throughout the match. This was a game, however, that was always going to be decided by attitude and not artistry.
That's the area where Donovan and much of Everton's side were found lacking. With a man advantage, you'd have expected more initiative and ambition in taking the game to Liverpool. For Donovan's part, he seemed tied to the touchline, never eager to push into the middle of the field and get on the ball. Considering the kinds of tackles that were flying in that area of the field, you could hardly blame him (Bob Bradley certainly wouldn't). Credit Liverpool, though: Desire can overcome a lot on a soccer field -- even an extra-man advantage.
Jozy Altidore's goal to open the scoring against Manchester City in Hull City's shocking 2-1 win -- his first in 18 games in England -- had to come as welcome news for him and American fans. It's not so much the goal itself, but the way he took it that should bode well for him going forward. It was a nice mixture of composure, instinct and class that can hopefully create some confidence for Altidore moving forward.