2012 MLS Cup - Team Press Conference

Landon Donovan and a recent history of transitioning icons


Raúl Gonzalez played his last international match in 2006, something more people would talk about if Spain didn’t immediately ascend to their current international preeminence. With 102 caps and 44 goals, the Real Madrid icon remains one of the most decorated players in Spain’s history, but on the wrong side of history, the iconic attacker missed out on a world championship, two European titles, and his country’s discarding of a reputation as one of world soccer’s persistent underachievers.

“I didn’t call Raul to let him know he wasn’t selected,” head coach Luis Aragones, four-time coach of Real rival Atlético, told an undoubtedly incredulous media upon dropping the icon. “He is not an exceptional case.”

source: ReutersPerhaps that statement served Aragones’s purposes, but it’s not true. Players like Raúl are exceptional cases, and rightfully so. Few players have the talent to make their country’s national team, let alone make over 100 appearances, let alone prove so inspirational that even after their former team wins three major titles, people debate whether his exclusion was justified. Capable of creating and scoring, as a focal point on and off the field, Raúl’s significance was difficult to understate, even if a dip in form meant his production wasn’t matching his reputation. Still, there will always be loyalists who feel Raúl deserved to share in Spain’s glories.

Raúl’s story, however, is not singular. It’s a logical one. Soccer players have professional lifespans. For the truly special ones, those lifespans coincide with teams and microcultures being built around them. For Raúl, talent plus iconography plus circumstance derived from his place of birth and club team’s prestige coalesced to create a type of world a player can define, both by his presence and his absence. For all their successes, Spain’s modern story begins where one of Raúl’s ends.

Other instances are less dramatic, but in the United States, we’re going through one of our own icon’s transitions – that of Landon Donovan, a type of American Raúl in significance if not style. But whereas Spain’s depth of talent partially justified Aragones’s decision, Donovan’s quality is viewed as singular. How, many U.S. soccer fans would ask, can Jurgen Klinsmann justify excluding a Landon Donovan?

It isn’t always about talent. Argentina’s discovered that many times with Juan Román Riquelme, whose unparalleled combination of clairvoyant’s vision and magician’s skill came with a sensitive nature that collapsed many relationships between star and manager. So it was no true surprise when, in March 2009, Riquelme abruptly announced his retirement from international soccer, unable to meet his new coach eye-to-eye.

“We don’t think the same way,” Riquelme said of Diego Maradona, the Argentine playing legend who replaced the resigned Alfio Basile. “We don’t share the same codes of ethics. While he is the coach of the national team, we can’t work together.”

source: APMaradona took over an Argentina team that was struggling to qualify for World Cup 2010 and, after incredible inconsistency over his first qualifiers, stabilized the team. The Albiceleste secured a place in South Africa and, despite numerous criticisms, made the tournament’s quarterfinals. It wasn’t classic Argentina, with the team eventually playing with four central defenders across the back, but given what he’d inherited, Maradona’s results vindicated his experiments.

He wanted Riquelme, though. Like most Argentines, Maradona revered Román’s skill, and as a icon for Diego’s beloved Boca Juniors, Riquelme was unlikely to be shown the door.

But for a man that, for all his faults, has inspired such loyalty from the generation that’s followed, Maradona saw none from Riquelme. When he insisted his trequarista adapt his game amid the country’s faltering results, Riquelme walked.

“All I said was that I wanted him to play 15 meters further up the pitch,” Maradona said, when asked about Riquelme’s decision. “What have I done for him to be scared of me? If I can’t say how I want my players to play, then I’m in the oven.”

With “only” 51 international caps, Riquelme is no Raúl or Donovan. His erratic temperament also mitigated his preternatural ability, making him more an object of impassioned debate than blind loyalty. At least, when juxtaposed against potential qualifying disappointment and the legend that is Diego Maradona, Riquelme’s stance was never going to move the masses.

So it was that an iconic player’s career ended amid a personality conflict. Lionel Messi was moved into the middle and, despite fan expectations that he’d score more goals, had an effective World Cup. Though they did not having a clear replacement, Argentina moved on without Riquelme. even if it was unclear how they’d replace him. Ultimately, Argentina was fine without Riquelme.

Out of the team for much of the Klinsmann era, Donovan’s absence no longer carries the uncertainties of Riquelme’s departure. Without the man they saw as their best player, United States fans have seen a capable if more limited U.S. squad navigate its obstacles. If there was a time when the exclusion of a Donovan-like talent would inspire questions and doubts, questions are all the remain.

“I beg the Brazilian fans that they support us,” were Dunga’s words, an incredible plea considering the man’s own playing résumé. A World Cup-winner with 91 caps, the midfield stalwart would garner the benefit of the doubt under most circumstances, but after omitting Ronaldinho from his 2010 World Cup squad, the Brazil boss was forced into a more emotional appeal.

“If they don’t like me or any other thing, that’s fine, but I want [the Brazilian fan] to support us, to be a patriot.”

source: APEven at that point, in May 2010, Ronaldinho’s fading skill was obvious. And given the focal point he’d been in previous squads, it wasn’t surprising Dunga wished to move on from Gaucho’s era. Having built a team that would rely on robust defending and counterattacking prowess, the world’s number one team was no place for a floating icon who, while still being one of the world’s most skilled players, didn’t fit the scheme.

Tell that to a Brazilian public who’d created the icon. Pele may have been the country’s best overall player, and by 2010 Messi had ascended to his global pedestal, but to those loyal to the style Ronaldinho brought, Gaucho was the counterpoint to each. Numbers are nice, and everybody loves goals, but who nobody could match Ronaldinho’s skill on the ball? Chasing a goal late, needing something that transcends tactics, that had to be worth something. Right?

It’s the type of appeal you’ll hear about the Algeria game – Donovan’s transcendant moment. Beyond explanation, beyond anything you can draw up on a white board, when you need a goal late, who would you rather have on the field? Most U.S. fans would rather have Donovan.

Brazil’s quarterfinal exit in South Africa left Ronaldinho’s supporters with a level of vindication, as did his recall under Dunga’s successor, Mano Menezes. But Dunga had long thrived without the former Ballon d’Or winner. The Seleçao were the reigning South American champions and had won the Confederations Cup the year before. They went into South Africa as the world’s number one team. While Brazil’s fans missed their idol, it’s unclear their team actually did.

It would be a mistake to draw direct parallels. Raúl is distinct, as is Riquelme, Ronaldinho and Donovan. It’s what makes their exclusions noteworthy. If we were talking about players easily compared to others, we wouldn’t be talking at all.

But there is something in each scenario that can be drawn on when thinking of Landon Donovan. Raúl’s iconography and importance within the Spanish team made his exclusion seem impossible, form be damned. Riquelme’s unlikely retirement came as expectations of his role changed – amid his inability (or, unwillingness) to accept his new world. And with Ronaldinho, fans passionate about a singular player were unable to see the bigger picture.

With all these players there was a bigger picture. Spain went on to unparalleled success. Argentina salvaged their qualifying campaign. Brazil stayed the top-ranked team in the world. Each team had a future after their icons.

The United States may be a ways away from embracing that future, and with Donovan set to take part in this summer’s Gold Cup, he’s got an obvious route back into the full national team. But if that route ends up being blocked, U.S. fans need only look to recent history and see a series of iconic players for more successful teams whose indispensability was dispelled.

Three things we learned from Leicester City vs. Man United

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Leicester City drew 1-1 with Manchester United on Saturday in a game dominated by one man: Jamie Vardy.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Vardy ]

He set a new record and the King Power Stadium erupted, while United and Leicester battled it out in a fair draw.

[ MORE: PL Saturday roundup ]

Here’s three things we learned from the KP.


He did it. Heading into this game all the talk was about Vardy and if the 28-year-old could set a new PL record of scoring in 11 consecutive games. Well, he did.

From Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town, Fleetwood Town and now Leicester City, Vardy has always scored goals but the one he scored against Manchester United on Saturday has placed him in the record books. Reacting to the feat live on Sky Sports after the game, Vardy rolled out the cliches but showed a little bit of emotion.

“I am obviously delighted but the main thing was the performance,” Vardy said. “I think we put a really good shift in today and a point was a fair result. We have a lot of pace in the team and counter attacking is a big advantage for us. We have come straight from a corner. It was unbelievable. I think I got a bit carried away with myself!”

When asked afterwards what he was shouting when wheeling away in celebration, Vardy said “I can’t repeat it to be honest with you” and then elaborated on what it has been like this week with the pressure on his shoulders.

“Obviously if I let it get to me then it will effect my performance so I’ve just been keeping my head down and not let it sink in my head and just concentrate on it and that it was just another game we wanted to get three points in,” Vardy added.

The next record for Vardy to break is from the 1931-32 English top-flight season. Before the PL was formed Sheffield United’s Jimmy Dunne scored in 12-straight games. Let’s see if Vardy can continue this incredible run when Leicester face Swansea City next Saturday, but all that matters right now is that he holds the record in the PL and has come from absolutely nowhere to do something no other player has done in PL history. Remarkable. Memorable. Magnificent.


Right on the stroke of half time the atmosphere fell a little flat at the KP as Bastian Schweinsteiger headed home to make it 1-1. After the euphoria of Vardy giving United the lead, the away side battled back against the home crowd and were able to dig deep to get on level terms. For the second week running in the PL they went on the road and ground out a result. Of course Louis Van Gaal‘s side would’ve preferred a win but as the game wore on they looked the more likely to win as Memphis flashed a shot over and Matteo Darmian smashed an effort inches over in stoppage time.

At the back Chris Smalling marshaled a three-man central defensive unit impressively — apart from Vardy’s goal where Ashley Young and Darmian let him get ghost in-behind too easily — but David De Gea was still forced into a great save from Leonardo Ulloa in the 66th minute when the Leicester forward should’ve scored. Once again United flattered to deceive in the final third and that will be a worry for LVG, but they showed grit and determination to gain a point on the road at high-flying Leicester. It is tough to break down United and they say all championships are won with a great defense but the lack of creative flair up front is concerning.


One of the main reasons why that flair wasn’t there, once again, was that Wayne Rooney had another game to forget. United’s captain and talisman started off in a central striking role with Anthony Martial but often in the first half he was dropping deep on the left to pick up the ball and although he sprayed a few nice passes out wide there was no swagger, verve or conviction in his actions. This is a player who captains his country, has been in the PL for over a decade and will break many records by the time his career comes to an end. Right now though, it’s hard to see how Rooney keeps being selected for club and country.

Rooney, 30, is in a slump. He’s scored just twice in 12 Premier League outings this season and when he was substituted in the 68th minute on Saturday, it backed up the recent quotes from LVG stating that his skipper is not a guaranteed starter. It’s not just Rooney that is lacking flair but United in general look lackluster when they have possession and make it too easy for opponents to get back into their shape and defend with 10-men behind the ball.

Playing Rooney as a striker or in the hole hasn’t worked for LVG this season. Is it time he stopped playing him altogether?

Premier League roundup: Man City, Leicester level on points; Magpies into drop zone

during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Leicester, England.
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A lot of the big guns are playing on Sunday, but that didn’t stop Saturday’s Premier League action from bringing us a mix of history and unlikelihood.

[ WATCH: USMNT’s Johnson scores brace in Bundesliga play ]

Leicester’s star striker broke a Premier League record, and the Foxes are still tied for the most points in the league, behind on Man City on goal differential. Manchester United failed in its quest to reclaim the PL lead, while Newcastle United fell into the drop zone.

That and more, below…

Leicester City 1-1 Manchester UnitedRECAP

Jamie Vardy stands alone as the model of Premier League goal-scoring consistency (at least in one run). The Leicester City man scored early to give him goals in 11-straight games, breaking the record he shared with Ruud van Nistelrooy. Bastian Schweinsteiger found the equalizer for United before the second half drifted into Snooze City. Leicester remains level on points with Man City, while United is a point behind the leaders.

Crystal Palace 5-1 Newcastle United — RECAP

The Magpies are back in the drop zone after an embarrassing display against old boss Alan Pardew at Selhurst Park. Yannick Bolasie and James McArthur each scored twice for the Eagles, who climbed to sixth with the win. Wilfried Zaha also scored in the win.

Sunderland 2-0 Stoke City — RECAP

Ryan Shawcross had the Potters playing a man down for nearly the entire second half, and Sam Allardyce‘s Black Cats now have picked up two wins versus shorthanded sides after Patrick Van Aanholt and Duncan Watmore scored to pull Sunderland out of the relegation zone.

SWANSEA, WALES - NOVEMBER 21: Bournemouth player Junior Stanislas in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Liberty Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Bournemouth 3-3 Everton — RECAP

Junior Stanislas‘ day to remember likely made an indelible imprint on the Dean Court crowd, as Bournemouth came back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits against high-flying Everton. The Toffees led by two at the break before Andy Smith and Stanislas equalized by the 87th minute. Ross Barkley‘s 95th minute goal caused a delay as Everton fans flooded the pitch, and Stanislas made them pay in the eighth minute of stoppage. Madness. Wonderful madness.

Southampton 1-3 Manchester CityRECAP

St. Mary’s was the scene for Man City’s rise back to the top of the table. Aleksandar Kolarov, Kevin De Bruyne and Fabian Delph scored for the leaders, while Shane Long netted Saints’ only goal. Southampton drops to ninth, behind Everton and Palace.

Aston Villa 2-3 WatfordRECAP

The Hornets survived a brief scare from the Villans to pick up three points on the road and rise to 11th on the table. Odion Ighalo scored early before Micah Richards even things up just before halftime. An Alan Hutton own goal restored Watford’s advantage, and Troy Deeney gave them breathing room in the 85th minute. Jordan Ayew pulled Villa to within one in the 89th minute, but it was not to be for Remi Garde’s crew. Villa sits last with a mere five points through 14 games.

Leicester City 1-1 Manchester United: Vardy makes history

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  • Vardy breaks Van Nistelrooy’s record
  • Schweinsteiger finds equalizer
  • De Gea, Schmeichel stand tall in second half

The top-end tilt between Leicester City and Manchester United lived up to its billing for 45 minutes before petering out in a 1-1 draw at King Power Stadium.

That won’t change the enduring memory of the match for the Leicester City faithful, as Jamie Vardy made Premier League history by scoring in his 11th-consecutive game to break United legend Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record.

Leicester is level on points with first-place Manchester City, but behind on goal differential. United is a point off the pace, in third.

[ WATCH: Vardy’s record-setting goal ]

Vardy’s took a tidy touch before belting a low shot past David De Gea‘s right leg, sending the King Power Stadium crowd into a state of euphoria with a 1-0 lead against the PL powers.

Schweinsteiger leveled things before halftime, powering in a corner from Daley Blind.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Vardy ]

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]  

United should’ve gone up off an Ashley Young free kick in the 49th minute. Schweinsteiger forced Kasper Schmeichel into a save, and Wayne Rooney headed a begging rebound wide of the goal.

Leicester had its chance to go up denied by a fine point-blank save by De Gea, as Leonardo Ulloa was denied by the Spaniard.

The case against McClaren: Should Newcastle United make a change?

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Steve McClaren manager of Newcastle United scratches his head  during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Newcastle United at Selhurst Park on November 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Newcastle United’s supporters have earned the descriptor “always-proud” over the years, but it’s front office has dipped into “once-proud” category with a series of embarrassing seasons.

And that’s what makes it so tricky to decide whether new boss Steve McClaren deserves the sack after just 14 games in charge of the Northeast side.

[ MATCH RECAP: Crystal Palace 5-1 Newcastle United ]

Despite embattled owner Mike Ashley opening his purse strings this summer — adding Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba — McClaren has posted a 2W-4D-8L start to life in the Premier League. The wins have come against new boys Norwich City and Bournemouth, and McClaren has seen his team dispatched from the League Cup by a Championship side.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Steve McClaren manager of Newcastle United leaves the pitch after his team's 1-5 defeat in the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Newcastle United at Selhurst Park on November 28, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

The 54-year-old earned a shot back at the top largely on the merits of his apprenticeship under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and an Eredivisie crown with Twente in 2009.

After poor, short spells at Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest, McClaren helped his star rise with Derby County from 2013-15. But he never was able to push the club over the top, fading down the stretch last season.

The Premier League is a win-now entity, and Newcastle is well behind the pace of its top-flight brethren. It’s defending is miserable, and the club has no answers for teams that attack with vigor (See the five goals allowed to Sergio Aguero, last week’s 3-0 loss to Leicester City and today’s embarrassment against former boss Alan Pardew).

[ PARDEW: I don’t want to talk poorly about Newcastle ]

Even former NUFC outcast Luuk De Jong, who failed on Tyneside but is revitalized in Holland, is throwing shade at his brother Siem’s side.

Back in the relegation zone, Newcastle has to enter crisis mode after this aimless run through a span of fixtures that demanding points. Yes, they dominated at Sunderland and lost on an unearned red card, but the Magpies also beat Bournemouth despite getting thoroughly out-classed.

With Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton in three of the Magpies’ next four matches — and raise your hand if you think McClaren will out-manage Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp or Roberto Martinez — Newcastle needs to plan for two relegation scraps against Aston Villa and West Brom.

Now could be time to put a caretaker manager into the fray, and find someone who’s helmed a proper relegation fight in the Premier League. Because when even Sam Allardyce is finding points from a substandard group of players at Sunderland, your rival, it’s hard to imagine this can look much worse.

But going back to years of selling their best players — Yohan Cabaye, Andy Carroll, Demba Ba — and letting second-rate (and worse) managers languish in charge, can it really be put on McClaren? That’s the question Ashley has to ask.

Given their schedule, Newcastle has little chance to be out of the relegation battle come New Year’s Day. So who do the Magpies want leading them out come 2016?