I can't imagine that it's easy being Landon Donovan. Don't get me wrong. I am fully aware that there are literally millions of people on this floating orb who have it much worse than does the Major League Soccer star who, at just 30-years old, is already the greatest American footballer to ever play the game. When you really look back at his career, though, you realize that Donovan is arguably the least appreciated American athlete of all time. A large majority of US Soccer and sports fans ridicule him for being a "failure" overseas, or because of perceived personality traits which may not even exist. Other American players have claimed that Donovan "took the easy way out" by playing in MLS full-time rather than in Europe. The greatest moment in US Soccer history, brought to us by Donovan, is now merely an "oh yeah, I remember that" goal that occurred during what was ultimately a failed World Cup run.
Never before, however, has Donovan more deserved to leave the States, LA Galaxy and MLS than May 2012.
A lot has changed since last fall when Donovan and his Galaxy teammates hoisted the MLS Cup. Omar Gonzalez went down to injury, David Beckham returned to the club despite all reports indicating that he preferred to play for PSG, and what was advertised as the "greatest MLS team ever assembled" was bounced from CONCACAF Champions League play by a Toronto FC side that, as of the writing of this sentence, still hasn't won a single MLS league match this season.
Perhaps the 2012 Galaxy were always, for whatever reason, destined to fail. Following the CONCACAF disappointment, the wheels quickly and painfully fell off the LA bus. The defending champs suffered through numerous painful results, none worse than on May 23 against San Jose Earthquakes. Playing at home and with a 2-0 lead, 10-men Galaxy gave up three goals in the final 18 minutes of the match. That defeat kept LA at the very bottom of the western conference standings. Heading into Memorial Day weekend, only Toronto and Philadelphia have earned fewer points than have LA, and the Galaxy are currently tied in the overall league standings with expansion Montreal Impact.
Some MLS apologists will try to convince you that Donovan leading this particular Galaxy side back from the basement of league standings all the way to another championship this coming fall would be the greatest achievement of his career. The problem with such a theory is that, outside of the small community (when compared with the fan bases of other professional sports in this country) of diehard MLS supporters, nobody would notice or even care about the Galaxy winning another title. Such an achievement would be just another "if a tree falls in the forest but nobody is around to hear it" moment for a great player who, according to recent interviews, is already eying the end of his playing days.
In an interview recently posted on the official FIFA website, an overly modest Donovan claimed that he "absolutely" wants to return to Everton. I don't see any reason why he should have to wait past this summer to make the move. Donovan completed a successful loan spell with Everton this past winter, and he was even named the team's Player of the Month for January. Donovan proved earlier this year that he can excel, not just compete, at the highest level.
The US soccer icon recently told reporters that he no longer "enjoys" all that comes from being a Landon Donovan who lives and plays in the US. Thanks to Clint Dempsey, Donovan wouldn't even be the biggest American star playing in Europe next August were he to return to Everton this summer. Not only would Donovan have an opportunity to close out his club career without having to worry about being a "face of the league," but he could be a key man that potentially helps Everton earn European football. Such an idea isn't as crazy as one might think, as Everton finished the 2011-12 campaign just nine points behind fifth place Newcastle United.
My hope is that, were Donovan to decide to head overseas, neither LA Galaxy nor MLS would attempt to stop him. Donovan has done more than enough for our domestic league, his MLS club and US Soccer, in general. More than anything, Donovan has earned the right to close out his career however and whenever he chooses;
even if that means doing so while off of American soil.
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- Landon Donovan
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