Americans Abroad: A more polished Donovan returns to Premier League
These days, Everton needs Landon Donovan a lot more than the Los Angeles Galaxy captain needs the Premier League club.
What a difference a couple of years makes.
When Donovan last set foot at Goodison Park, he had yet to have success in past attempts in Europe, he had not won an MLS Cup in five years and he was months away from the Algeria Moment that will likely be the lasting image of his U.S. Soccer legacy.
Two years after scoring two goals and being an all-around catalyst while on loan with Everton, the Toffees' favorite American rental is headed back to Merseyside a more polished player with all of those achievements under his belt, and a player that will be counted on to get the club out of its scoring and performance slump.
Everton has been shut out in four of its last seven matches -- going 1-5-1 in that time -- and will have Donovan's services for a brief two-month loan starting as soon as the winter transfer window opens at the turn of the new year. His return also keeps the American player quota at Everton at two, as he'll replace one of U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard's backups, Marcus Hahnemann, whose short-term deal with the club expires come the new year.
While the loan prevents Donovan from participating in Jurgen Klinsmann's MLS-heavy U.S. training camp and ensuing two friendlies next month -- meaning that the United States will have played seven straight matches without its all-time leading scorer -- Donovan will still be staying fit in a highly competitive environment, and he won't be completely alienated from the U.S. scene, either. Everton goalkeepers coach Chris Woods doubles as one of Klinsmann's national team assistants, and Donovan is obviously well-acquainted with Howard.
The loan does provide an opportunity for great theater in U.S. Soccer circles as well, as Everton's Jan. 11 match against Tottenham at White Hart Lane will pit Donovan against former U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel about a month after the Spurs netminder stirred the pot with some scathing remarks.
In Friedel's now-infamous interview with BBC World Service earlier this month -- the contents of which he later clarified as a misunderstanding -- he answered a question about Clint Dempsey and his success in the Premier League by choosing to compare and contrast the career paths of Dempsey and Donovan. Friedel's coldest remark implied that Donovan took "the easy road" by choosing to play out his career in MLS instead of trying to make it in Europe a la Dempsey. Needless to say, Everton's trip to North London remains a must-see for all U.S. fans.
Even though Donovan and Dempsey continue to be used as each other's measuring stick despite both being among the best field players the United States has ever produced (can't we just leave it at that?), the former will certainly aim to match the latter in terms of producing to help his club escape the relegation zone.
Dempsey scored in each of Fulham's two games this past week to bring his season total to eight goals in all competitions. He has scored in three of his last four games, helping supply Fulham with four crucial league points to put the club five points clear of dreaded 18th place. Everton, meanwhile, is a point closer to the drop zone than Fulham and faces the likes of top-six teams Tottenham, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool during its next 12-match stretch, when Donovan will be looked upon for the leadership and production that have become hallmarks of his career.
In what turned out to be quite a notable week for Americans abroad both on and off the field -- including goals for Carlos Bocanegra and Sacha Kljestan and a debut for West Ham's 17-year-old English-American left back Daniel Potts -- here is a closer look at how everybody fared (season statistics encompass all competitions):