Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Sequel Suck Factor

Probably everyone has experienced the sequel suck factor - going to see the second edition of a beloved film and realizing that this new movie is so bad that inevitably, former fond and happy memories of the first edition are forever tainted. 

For me, it was the Matrix Reloaded - with a contrived, convoluted storyline, product placement action sequences, and odd, disconnected acting - that ruined The Matrix for me. I was rooting for Trinity, my fave from the first movie, to die so she'd escape the dreck that was the Reloaded film, and I felt absolutely cheated when Neo magically removed the bullet that killed her and restarted her heart. I still haven't ever seen the third film of the Matrix trilogy. The second movie was so bad, I couldn't be bothered to care about how everything eventually ended.

Sucky sequel
Sometimes the second film is actually as good, or even better, than the first. The Empire Strikes Back comes to mind. However, it's rare. Generally, the pleasant surprise element of whatever original idea the first film in a franchise had is gone, and it's not as good the second time around. 
So the link to something soccer-related is - Landon Donovan is returning to Everton on loan. 
But why? I can guess at various reasons. 
1) He likes it there. The blue side of the Mersey treated him well during his earlier loan stint and with the club struggling this season, Donovan is likely to be welcomed back with open arms. 
2) Cause Klinsy said so. USMNT coach Klinsmann has made it clear to USA players based in MLS that he would like them to train on loan during the offseason, and LD is still hoping for that USA captaincy. Ergo, he goes. 
3) Galaxy job is done. With the MLS championship secured, LD doesn't have the pressure of, 'didn't win the title, shouldn't he rest and focus on that before traipsing off for a loan stint' questions. 
4) Back on the market? Donovan has said before that he would in fact welcome a move to Europe if the offer is right. A showcase turn at Everton might encourage interest. 

5) Knee needs a workout. Donovan was probably more injury-affected this season than ever before, but much of that was kept under wraps. In fact, the exact nature and extent of his 2011 injury woes are still mysterious. It might be something which could actually benefit from game time at this point in the recovery schedule. That would be weird in terms of typical injuries, but strange things are possible.
Now that I've run down some possible reasons for LD at Everton, Part II, Try Harder, here's some reasons why all may not go as well as it did before. 
1) He's older, and Prem defenders are wiser. Donovan's lost a half-step since he was last at Everton, (that's purely my individual measurement, not any scientific fact) and in England, that half-step lost can be deadly. Look at how useless Theirry Henry became once he lost even a little speed. Also, it won't be assumed that the American is completely useless, as might have been the case a bit before. 

2) Expectations are higher. Even if Donovan replicates his earlier success with the club, that may not meet expectations. That's because rather than expecting little, Everton fans are probably looking for a lot more. 

3). The need is greater. Everton need a lifeline. They're like the American middle class right now, getting squeezed from all sides. Creative budgeting isn't doing it when the top clubs keep grabbing up the best players. Donovan wasn't looked at as a savior before, and he might be this time. 

4) Less help, more work. Everton doesn't have Arteta, the midfield maestro who Donovan meshed well with before. The club's offensive output has been paltry. Donovan can't do it alone. 

5) That wonky knee. Though he soldiered through the season and scored the goal that won the Galaxy the title, Donovan didn't have, by his standards, a great year. He's likely not as fit as he was two years ago. 

In time, we'll see how The Striker Strikes Again turns out. Donovan at Everton, The Second Time, could defy the odds and my own pessimism.

It'll Kill You

Fandom, that is. Well, that and Addison's. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dempsey, Donovan, Friedel Donnybrook

I sighed a little reading about the dust-up stirred up among fans when Brad Friedel made some remarks to the effect that Landon Donovan took "the easy road" by staying in Major League Soccer, as compared to Clint Dempsey, who plays in England for Fulham. 

Friedel backtracked a bit by going on to explain his comments were not meant to disparage Landon or any other MLS player. His words surely weren't complimentary, however. 

That a player who worked hard to move to England and then has worked very hard to stay there thinks it means more for another player to do the same is perfectly legitimate, though. It's simple preference. 

For people to be upset about that opinion is as pointless as the chocolate versus vanilla debate.  

Both Donovan and Dempsey are good players. Both have accomplished a lot for their respective clubs and for the USMNT. Arguments can easily be made for one or the other as the top USA player today. The winner will always come down to which qualities or achievements are valued more by the person doing the evaluation. 

Debate among fans is good, though, and for some, a rehash of old arguments is still worthwhile, given that history needs to be updated with the latest information and comparisons. 

For me, the Donovan versus Dempsey debate is far less irritating than another, more frustrating argument. 

This is the one I call the 'ghost Donovan' debate. 

This is the argument made by people who believe that if Landon Donovan had stayed at Bayer Leverkusen (either the first -circa 2000- or the second time -circa 2004-), he would have somehow taken his limited playing time and buckled down into a really inspired hard worker who would be the most amazing USA player ever, make it on to some top team like Manchester United or Barcelona, and play well enough that worldwide, there would be admiration for his talent and people would regularly say, "Americans can really play."

The 'ghost Donovan' is better than the real one at every turn. He speaks Dutch and French (stints with Ajax and Lyon) in addition to German, Spanish and English. GD's a little taller, faster, nicer, and dresses better than Donovan.  He makes souffles instead of eating In-&-Out cheeseburgers. 

Yet even with the luxury of imagining a perfect world for GD, the timeline of reality is also a powerful argument. Without the game experience learned in MLS, would Donovan have been ready for World Cup 2002? What would have changed from that point on?

The sad thing about the GD versus LD argument is that it casts a shadow on everything Donovan does accomplish. Apparently, GD would have scored even more USA goals, notched even more assists. LD can't escape the comparisons against a super-idealized, European-playing version of himself. 

I've said before that I firmly believe some of Donovan's most strident detractors are actually his biggest fans when they say he'd be so much better if he played in Europe. I've thought of him as a good player, but not one with huge reserves of untapped potential. In either MLS or abroad, he's been pretty much the same player for quite a while now. He's not going to suddenly crank up to another gear or become a total magician with the ball. What will define his legacy at this point will be his longevity - and his ability to sustain that level of play.

Some have argued that Donovan owed it to other American players to blaze a trail for them abroad, but it's possible that GD would have been considered an American anomaly, made more in Germany, etc, than really produced by the USA. Who knows? Everything about GD is pure conjecture, agonizingly abstract. 

I guess the debate that I want to see one day is one comparing two top USA players, say, Sebastian Lletget and Luis Gill. I'd like to see fans raving on about their speed and skill, their creativity and strength under pressure, citing special shots or moments as evidence of superiority, but completely bypassing as irrelevant the continent of the club teams both represent. It probably won't happen for a long while, but it's better than the tiresome GD versus LD scenario.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Injury Creates Opportunity

When Brad Guzan first joined Major League Soccer in 2005 as a part of Chivas USA, he was in his early twenties, basically just a kid, especially for a goalkeeper. But an injury to starter Martin Vasquez forced Guzan into the starters role and the adversity pushed him to excel, eventually earning a transfer abroad to England. There, he waited. 

And waited. 

Let's hope he makes the most of it.  I predict he will do well.