In a post-game interview after last night’s All-Star game, Landon Donovan said “We have had transfer interest and we will have some time to think about it and see where it goes. There is interest from a number of teams.”
To be explicit, what Donovan said he is going to Europe, and it is not a matter of when (next month) but of who (Everton, Man City, Serie A or somewhere else) and at what price.
Landon Donovan is, simply said, the best American soccer player of all time. He has speed, ball skills, game vision, and a scoring touch that are unmatched by any US player to date. For American fans of the game, for followers of MLS, and for those of us in Los Angeles who have been privileged to watch him play for the past seasons, he has provided some truly inspirational moments. We will miss him. But it is truly time for him to go.
He simply has nothing left to prove here in the States. He has done all he can do to promote the game and inspire the next generation of players. He has provided some memorable moments. He has played in three World Cups and will probably add a fourth before he hangs up his cleats for good. In order to improve, and in order for him to show both the rising generation of American players and a skeptical (though increasingly less so) European community what American soccer has to offer the world football community, it is time for him to take this step.
Will Major League Soccer suffer for his loss? Perhaps a little, in the short-run. In the long run, for MLS to have credibility with American fans, it cannot exist as a closed market. American soccer fans are not dim. They know the best leagues are overseas, and that for MLS to have credibility, and to one day be seen on a par with those leagues, MLS has to be able to produce players that can succeed and star in England, Germany, Italy and Spain. Every MLS player that succeeds in Europe reflects well on MLS, gives it more legitimacy, and makes it more interesting as a spectator sport. The millions of dollars a Donovan transfer, and other similar transfers, will generate will enable MLS to recruit, market and develop with greater resources.
In the near-term, this is the best use of MLS – a developer and exporter of North American talent and an importer of famous European players on (but not past) the downslopes of their careers. The fact that four months ago Theirry Henry and Rafa Marquez were playing for arguably the best team in the world (Barcelona) and are now in MLS while Landon Donovan is going from being the unstoppable player in MLS to a valued asset in Europe is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Will American fans suffer for Donovan’s loss? No. We are not “losing” him. For most American fans, Donovan will be playing on FSC on Saturday mornings rather than FSC on Saturday evenings.
And finally, the American soccer community could simply not be so cruel as to deny Donovan the opportunity to play every week among the best. Donovan only has a few years left before his skills and abilities begin to irretrievably slip away. For all he has done for MLS and soccer in this country, he is owed the opportunity end his career without unanswered questions. Donovan scored as many goals in South Africa (three) as the entire English team. He deserves the chance to show the world why that was not a fluke.
As a Galaxy season ticket holder, I know that this Sunday against Chicago may be the last time Donovan leads his team onto the Home Depot Center turf. I will miss him as much as any athlete I have ever seen play for any of my local teams and I will be sorry to see him go. It would be sorrier to see him stay here, and wonder about what could have been.