The American sporting public, still high on a sucessful World Cup, has turned it’s attention towards its biggest star and his plans for the future. Landon Donovan, now the most famous American soccer player of all time thanks to his dramatic goal against Algeria, is currently the captain of the L.A. Galaxy and the poster boy for MLS. It has been widely suspected that he will soon leave the sunny shores of California for one of Europe’s top leagues, preferably the EPL where Donovan enjoyed a successful loan stint with Everton.
But MLS commissioner Don Garber has become a roadblock in such a move, claiming that he would block any transfer offer for Donovan. Since it is baseball season and journalists and pundits are grasping for something, anything to talk about, where Donovan belongs has become a topic of much debate across sporting media platforms. As fun as it is to watch “experts” on programs like Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption flounder in their knowledge of the world’s most popular game, their incredibly ignorant opinions are endangering the growth of American soccer by advocating the handcuffing of our most marketable star.
On today’s PTI, Bob Ryan, the old and crotchety columnist for the Boston Globe, scoffed at Donovan’s credentials saying, “two goals in 13 games at Everton. That’s a big, big deal? No.” Nevermind that two goals in 13 games is stellar production from a outside midfielder but Donovan’s pace, passing and defense made him Everton’s “Player of the Month” in January and the Everton faithful were desperate to keep him until the end of the EPL season. Ryan then went on to say that in order for the American sport to grow our top players need to play in their country of origin.
But let’s apply that theory to some other players to apply their sporting trade in the United States. Would basketball be bigger in China if Yao Ming had stayed in Asia? What about Pau Gasol and Spain? Baseball is now one of the biggest sports in Japan because their star player, Ichiro Suzuki, became an all-star in the top baseball league in the world. The list goes on and on. Alex Ovechkin and Russia, David Ortiz and the Dominican Republic, etc.
Can you imagine Didier Drogba or Michael Essien getting flack for wanting to come to the EPL rather than play in Africa? Even countries with legitimate soccer leagues like the Netherlands and Russia are eager to ship their stars out to one of the big four leagues to make their countries proud. It’s American arrogance that says if we play a sport the top league must be here or else we want no part of it. But the fact is we will never be able to compete with the likes of the EPL, La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga because we don’t have the Champions League and soccer will always be behind baseball, football and basketball.
So instead of trying to turn the MLS into the top league in the world by bringing high-priced retirees into the fold, Garber and Co. should take a lesson from leagues in Brazil and Holland. Awknowledge that the best thing for your fans is to develop solid talent, send them to highly competitive leagues, and let your national pride come from the national teams. So far the MLS has shown itself as a reputable developmental league, churning out players like Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard but will never be able to do its job properly and develop young, American talent until they let go of their delusions of grandeur.
I’m not an MLS hater, I enjoy it in the same way I enjoy my local minor league baseball team. I’ll cheer them on and love it when they win but what brings me the most pride is when they move on to the major leagues and show how good players from my area can be. So let Donovan go to the EPL, to Everton if possible, and aid in the long, arduous task of overturning public sentiment towards the American player, in a league Americans actually watch.
You can follow John Boschini at twitter.com/Johnbo01