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Can Donovan blaze new EPL trail?

By nearly all accounts, Landon Donovan was a hit in his English Premier League debut last weekend. The all-time U.S. national team's scoring leader played 68 solid minutes for Everton and served up the corner kick that lead to the Toffees' first goal in their 2-2 draw with Arsenal.

Even before the match, none other than Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger was among the impressed. He gushed over the Los Angeles Galaxy captain and predicted he'd do well during his three-month loan at Everton.

But the British media also seemed be hoping that Arsenal's Zen Master would reveal something that would tip the changing view toward the soccer talent coming out of America. For some time, many back home have speculated that if the U.S.' best player could get things going in the world's top league, it would spur more interest in his fellow countrymen and open up great opportunities abroad.

Wenger's no dummy. His response, captured in a video posted on Arsenal's Web site, made clear that he had considered the possibilities of the young talent on American shores already.

"You would not have any problem here of language, of culture and a massive scouting area in an activity that is booming now in the States," Wenger said. "It is all there to make a fantastic job and to create some good players."

Wenger's statements were made before the Everton game, and before many British pundits left impressed with Donovan's lively play. Though Donovan probably rose in Wenger's estimation after that game, even his good performance wouldn't change the fundamental problems the coach perceives in trying to bring more Americans to England.

"It is difficult to get the players," the Frenchman said. Wenger specifically cited England's work-permit requirement, which demands that foreign players -- anyone who lacks a European Union passport -- need to be playing in 75 percent of their country's international matches.

With injuries, the need for rest and the variety of competitions involving the U.S. national team, few field players other than Donovan hit that mark. Appeals for exceptions to the rule are possible, but there's no guarantee they'd succeed.

However, that doesn't mean Donovan's time at Everton will be a waste, even if he isn't a pied piper leading more American talent to Europe. If Donovan performs well, logic says, he contributes to the changing perceptions of American players abroad.

Some American prospects won't have any issues with work permits. Stuart Holden, for instance, is Scottish by birth, and has dual citizenship. Owen Coyle, who has taken over as Bolton manager and is a fan of Holden's, appears eager to give the Houston Dynamo midfielder a trial with Wanderers. Those who tout Holden as a younger, blonder version of Donovan are probably getting ahead of themselves, even if Holden likely hits a better cross than Donovan most of the time.

Perception creates reality, though, and that's why, to a certain extent, the fortunes of one U.S. player can affect another. Perhaps no American field player has been more beloved during his tenure in England than Brian McBride was at Fulham. The fans loved his fearlessness in throwing himself at every ball.

It isn't a coincidence that after McBride's triumphs, Fulham went on to sign several other Americans, including current star Clint Dempsey. Similarly, it's likely Claudio Reyna's stint with Scotland's Rangers paved the way for his compatriots, DaMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu, to sign with the squad years later. The Everton coach who signed Donovan to a loan deal, David Moyes, also had previous success with McBride in two different stints at Preston North End and Everton.

Americans have long been given credit for their athleticism and effort, yet in a single Premier League match, Donovan showed different aspects to his game, which rely more on technique and skill. Those aren't attributes for which Americans in England are typically known.

Still, one solid performance by David Beckham's most well-known Galaxy teammate isn't going to open the floodgates for Yanks in the EPL. And that's more due to the strict regulations Wenger bemoans than how well Donovan plays while on loan at Everton. Yet leaving a good impression could help future players, whether hard-working and hard-charging, or nimble and crafty, to get a more open-minded reception.

Even Wenger hasn't stopped looking for new possibilities in the New World. "We have a full-time scout in the States," the coach admitted. That should be enough motivation for any Donovan wanna-be.

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