Andrew Dixon – aka One Grown Man – has a good piece up on USSoccerplayas.com. It’s not just that he starts with a second to yesterday’s somewhat over-alarmed post about United States’ World Cup qualifying campaign (OK, it’s subtle; just squint) and ends with an entirely reasonable plea that someone televise the African Nations Cup. It’s the middle number of Dixon’s three wishes for 2008 that hits on an issue I’ve been mulling for about a week, namely, Landon Donovan’s game. Because I’ve been thinking about this on a different track than Dixon, perhaps it’s not surprising I end up in a different place…say, six years down the road.
Long story short, Dixon’s wish is for Donovan to “dominate American soccer” ran headlong into some thinking I’ve been doing about Donovan’s game – and its potential limitations.
Love him or hate him, Donovan is the most lethal attacking player this country has ever produced and he’s got the numbers – assists, goals, and caps – to back it up. And the damnedest thing is Donovan has all those caps, has tied Wynalda’s goal-scoring record and, if I’m not mistaken, he holds the records on assists at twenty-frickin’-five (as shown at the bottom of this; OK, except the assists, but I’m pretty sure he has that one). But the deeper question involves what makes Donovan’s game work? If I had to pick a controlling factor, something that separates him from the pack, I’d go with speed – e.g. he can take players on because he’s a quick little shit, especially on the first several steps. After that, he passes well, but not brilliantly, and I’ve never seen anything over-remarkable in his touch/dribbling. Bottom line: Donovan possesses the basic skills, he has good vision, and a good brain. Take away that speed, however, and one has to wonder what he’d be.
And that’s kind of the point: age will take away that speed one day. A look at his player bio tells me Donovan will be 32 in June of 2014. True, he might hold onto his pace, but will it still be international class? A lot can happen to a body over 6 years – especially among professional players and especially among players for the ever-barnstorming, Beckham-hawking LA Galaxy…I think their seasons work like “dog season’s” or something, y’know, one of theirs is two for everyone else. Will Donovan learn more tricks by then? More to the point, will he have the motivation to learn more tricks by then? Maybe the downside to Donovan sticking States-side comes over the long haul. Barring injury, he’s virtually automatic on any MLS roster and I doubt that will change by the time World Cup 2014 rolls around. It’s also unlikely he’ll need to do much with his game by then, especially if all the fears about expansion diluting the MLS talent pool come true; his current game works well enough in an undiluted league.
I’m not ripping him for this – it’s his life, after all – but the decision to stick with a comfortable set-up has consequences. Maybe the current World Cup cycle really is his time. Any thoughts?