Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Toffees a Sticky Proposition for the Top of the Table

Since a certain Californian joined the blue half of Merseyside this January, Everton have played seven Premier League games, including matches against the entire top 5, plus a Europa League match against Sporting Lisbon. A murderers row for your season, if you will.

Yet the Toffees record in those eight games - a stellar 6 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss.

In back to back games now, Everton have defeated Chelsea, giving Manchester United a title race lifeline, before subsequently endangering that lifeline today with a well earned victory over the Red Devils at Goodison Park.

Now, I'm certainly not going to say Landon Donovan is singly responsible for this feat. But his presence surely has helped as he's slotted seamlessly into the starting lineup on either flank.

There are a number of reasons for this strong run, including Donovan's growing understanding with Tim Cahill (before being lost to injury against Sporting this Tuesday), Mikel Arteta's return, Steven Pienaar playing in the form of his life (in my opinion), and the general ability of Manager David Moyes to get his teams to continually fight and present a challenge every night on the pitch.

Today's match with Man U was particularly interesting because it was Wayne Rooney, the man who will be charged with carrying England on his back in South Africa this summer, against Donovan and Tim Howard, the two men who will look to do the same for the USA.

Oddly enough, England's World Cup hopes have been boosted because of some questionable decisions by Sir Alex Ferguson. His decisions to sell Ronaldo, to not re-sign Carlos Tevez, and thinking that Dimitar Berbatov and summer signings Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia could pick up the scoring slack have unintentionally led to Rooney's blossoming into possibly the most dangerous striker on form at the moment. Could this also be his undoing, with Rooney being burned out by June from carrying Man U on his back? We'll see.

But plainly when Rooney is not imperious, Man U are not the same team. He wasn't poor today, but even an average Rooney showing can doom Man U when the back line is missing Rio and Vidic. Ironically, today Berbatov had one of his better outings, but his talents are not of the type to carry a team on such a hard fought afternoon.

On the other side, Donovan's loan move has been an outright revelation. US fans have known Donovan was playing the football of his life in the past year or so, but not until he could translate it to Europe was that last modicum of respect going to come his way. And the respect has certainly come, with Everton's supporters naming him player of the month.

A measure of Donovan's quality over the years is the complete transformation in my personal opinion of the USA's all-time leading goal scorer.

Not long ago, when he was returning from failed attempts in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen, despite the fact that he was already probably the best player in MLS and the USA's key player, I never liked him. His talents were undeniable. Donovan has skill, speed, and could run for days. Yet he wasn't always consistent and he just didn't seem to have the ambition nor the fortitude to succeed abroad. He was horrible at taking free kicks and corners. I remember cursing him with friends as he wasted chances with the US National Team. Plus it didn't help that it was well known that he didn't want to leave MLS because he wanted to stay in California where he could be with his actress girlfriend (now his wife, who he's separated from) and the safety zone of friends and family.

Since that time there's been a gradual transformation. His talents continued to mature. Donovan may not have wanted to go abroad, but he often played his best in big moments. His performance against Italy in the World Cup was gritty and passionate, and his perpetual tormenting of Mexico found him easily in my heart. He was a near sure thing from the penalty spot. He maintained his position as the best player in MLS while enjoying more than anyone the responsibility of representing US soccer on and off the field. Even when he failed at Bayern Munich, it wasn't so much his fault as it was being put into a poor situation with the board never backing Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to bring him in on loan.

Now he can say he belongs on the same field week in, week out with the great stars of the EPL and in Europe. He's even turned into a great crosser of the ball, taking corners for Everton and getting a number of assists from them. Plus, it's given us a glimpse of how he could be tormenting the English back line, having already gotten the better of Ashley Cole, John Terry, and now Wes Brown.

The Toffees have been a tricky match for the big clubs of the EPL of late, and I'm sure as the English ponder this run of form, June 12 won't be far from their minds.


  1. The best thing Everton could do is ask him to stay. Going back to his Disney World team now seems perilous and a complete waste of time and talent. the MLS has notched another mark in it's belt by Donovan's ability to not just survive but thrive in the EPL. I wish him continued success and would find it humourous for him to explode against Engalnd this summer.

  2. Agreed, there is no reason for Donovan to return to LA. Unfortunately, even though he seems intent on staying in England this time around, it looks like he's going to have to return and wait for the summer before being sold. Maybe Everton can figure out a way for him to stay on until the end of the season.

  3. I think Everton was the best club that Donovan could have went to in the Premier League. For one thing he was guaranteed game time that he would never have had the opportunity for from a side competing for the top 4, as Everton weren't exactly enriched with forwards that can keep themselves fit this season. David Moyes is also just one those managers who seems to get the best out of his players time and time again. And although Everton haven't had a great season by their recent standards they weren't likely to be fighting a relegation battle during his loan spell so that unique kind of pressure was off.

    I'm glad he's done well in the EPL and I hope he gets the chance to stay on, but I worry for the standard of the MLS if it loses yet another one its stars. The only way the MLS will thrive in the future is if it somehow works out a way to entice the best US star players to stay in the league and gradually top those up with some of the better players abroad. I live just 15 minutes away from the Real Salt Lake stadium but even though they won the last event there's no one in the team that encourages me to go see a game, my home team Glasgow Celtic is having a shocker of a season both in defence and attack but I'd pay to see Aiden McGeady if only I could. Here in Utah I'd rather pay to see the Jazz play anyone in the NBA rather than watch Real Salt Lake which is a pity as I like watching football (soccer) live.