On Saturday morning, Landon Donovan will board a bus at Goodison Park, the stadium at the top of the photo amid all the working class houses, and travel about a mile to Anfield, the stadium at the bottom of the photo amid all the working class houses. Escorted by a phalanx of security, Donovan and his teammates will walk into Anfield and then, eventually through he tunnel, onto the field, and into an experience wholly new to Donovan. No matter what happens for the rest of Landon Donovan’s career, no matter what happens in South Africa, no matter whether he returns to the Galaxy or stays in Europe, the following two hours will be among the most memorable he will ever have.
Of all the great European derbies, there are few that can compare to the Merseyside clash. The Old Firm game in Scotland may be rooted in religious rivalry and for a half century the Barca-Real battle in Spain stood in for the civil war after the bullets stopped flying. However, it is the proximity of the Merseyside battle that drives the vitriol. For these two teams, separated by only a park, a cemetery, and 100 years of hate, this game can often define the value of their whole season.
Part of what makes this Derby so powerful is the sound. Both Anfield and Goodison are relatively small, confined stadiums. The crowd at Anfield is right on top of the action, and the noise reverberates around the stadium like shaken pennies in glass jar. For a normal Liverpool game against some random opponent, Anfield is one of the loudest stadia in the land. For the Merseyside game, noise is taken to an entirely new level. The noise at Anfield has feeling. You can sense it in your chest. When Donovan takes a cornerkick, he will be taking it while leaning against a wall of sound. To the extent he will be able to make out anything specific, the dialog would make a pornographer blush.
Ultimately, it is these types of experiences that will make his loan to Everton so valuable to Donovan. Playing with great players, against great players in an electrified atmosphere is something that you cannot get in 2010’s MLS. Maybe one day, but not today. To the extent that Landon under-performed in the World Cup four years ago, one of the reasons why is that he did not have enough experiences like the Merseyside Derby.
The games Donovan has played against Mexico are passionate, but really do not compare to a Liverpool/Everton match up. Ultimately, both Mexico and the US have always known that no matter the result, they were both going to qualify for the World Cup. Beating Mexico is fun mostly because it is so galling to the Mexicans. Losing to Mexico is always disappointing, but rarely devastating. What Donovan will experience on Saturday is of a completely different nature. The fans on both sides are so emotionally committed to the game that they hold nothing in reserve to cushion the blow should they lose.
For us west-coasters, we are looking at a 4:30 am kick-off on Saturday. My advice – set your alarm. With ESPN2 broadcasting the game in HD, it is time to wall –off the TV room, turn the volume up, and let the action wipe the sleep from your eyes. You rarely get to see a game like this with an American playing a position other than ‘keeper. It should not be missed.