2012 MLS Cup - Team Press Conference

Landon Donovan and a recent history of transitioning icons

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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.

Ashley Cole becomes latest Galaxy player sidelined by injured

CARSON, CA - MARCH 06:  Ashley Cole #3 of Los Angeles Galaxy shouts at an official after taking a hand to the face from a D.C. United player during the first half of their MLS match at StubHub Center on March 6, 2016 in Carson, California. There was no foul called on the play against D.C. United. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
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Plenty of changes were made to the LA Galaxy this offseason, and now injuries are also plaguing the five-time MLS Cup winners.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New Galaxy manager Curt Onolfo this week that defender Ashley Cole suffered a calf injury in the team’s preseason friendly against Real Salt Lake on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Whitecaps acquire Brek Shea in deal with Orlando City ]

The Los Angeles Times in reporting that Cole’s injury could keep him out for around a month, which would leave him absent of the Galaxy’s first three matches against FC Dallas, the Portland Timbers and RSL.

The 36-year-old Cole joined the Western Conference side in 2016 after a lengthy and successful European career. In his debut season, Cole made 26 starts for the Galaxy and scored a goal in that span.

In addition to Cole’s injury, the Galaxy are currently without outside back Robbie Rogers and USMNT attacker Gyasi Zardes, who have both undergone surgeries in the past two months.

Almost 100 arrests after Hertha Berlin, Frankfurt fans clash

BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 24:  Members of Hertha BSC celebrate after winning the Hertha BSC v VfL Wolfsburg - Bundesliga match 1:0 at Olympiastadion on September 24, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images for Deutsche Bahn)
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BERLIN (AP) Berlin police made almost 100 arrests on Saturday when Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt supporters clashed violently before their Bundesliga game.

[ MORE: Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul ]

Police say masked fans fought with batons, bottles, beer crates, chairs and flares on a busy street corner in the neighborhood of Moabit. The first officers on the scene faced “a group of around 60 rioters” who turned on the police.

Two police vehicles were damaged with stones and bottles before 96 arrests were made – with 73 of those arrested from the state of Hessen, which has Frankfurt as its largest city.

Six supporters were hospitalized. Police say only one fan is still in the hospital and in a “stable” condition.

Police say they are investigating whether the clash was pre-arranged.

PL Download – Tottenham Hotspur: To Dare Is To Do

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The latest Premier League side to get the PL Download treatment is Tottenham Hotspur, as Men In Blazers’ Roger Bennett details the club’s ethos in “To Dare Is To Do”.

[ MORE: Spurs 4-0 Stoke | Kane, Dele react ]

Bennett is joined by Hugo Lloris, Mauricio Pochettino and others to discuss Spurs, their new stadium project, and much more.

Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Paul Pogba passes the trophy to Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United in victory after during the EFL Cup Final between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England. Manchester United beat Southampton 3-2.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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LONDON — Pure and simple, Manchester United got out of jail to win the League Cup on Sunday at Wembley.

Southampton deserved to win. United did not.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

But they did, as Jose Mourinho found a way to win his first major trophy as a Red Devil and begin what could be another golden era in their history. With the trophy win they’ve know equaled Liverpool’s 41 major titles and the team Mourinho is building suggests there could be many more, maybe even this season, as they’re still alive in the FA Cup and UEFA Europa League.

United beat Southampton 3-2 thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s late header, as they threw away an undeserved 2-0 lead as Saints fought back to make it 2-2 thanks to goals from Manolo Gabbiadini and then they hit the post through Oriol Romeu right on the hour mark as United were hanging on for dear life. Saints also had a perfectly good goal chalked off in the first half for offside with the score locked at 0-0.

[ MORE: Zlatan reacts to win ]

However it went in United’s favor and they got it done. There’s an invincibility returning with just one defeat in their last 27 games in all competitions. This win was far from convincing but they found a way.

Mourinho knew his team had got away with one, praising Claude Puel‘s Southampton who deserved more, but his incredible knack of winning trophies continues.

“Honestly, Ibrahimovic won the game for us because he was outstanding. I can see a couple of performances – Pogba similar level – but he was outstanding,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “In a match where the opponent was better than us for long periods – they deserved to go to extra time – he made the difference and he gave us the cup.

“I’m a bit emotional yes. It’s not easy to win titles and so many times. It’s not easy to cope with the pressure I put myself under. It was a game I was feeling the difficulty. I want to pay homage to Southampton and what they deserve. We have the cup in our hands and probably should be in extra time. Winning is always special. The day I don’t get emotional when I win is the day to go home.”

Throughout the final Mourinho’s side were undone out wide with full backs Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo given a torrid time by Southampton’s wingers and especially full backs Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand. So many time crosses were whipped in or pulled back and a Southampton player couldn’t get on the end of it.

Mourinho’s United resembled a fighter on the ropes in the second half, clinging on for a points decision with the occasional flurry of hope. Apart from Jesse Lingard‘s volley at the back post and a low shot from Marcus Rashford, there was nothing for United in the second half. They looked like a team who had played four games in 11 days, while Saints had two weeks off.

Then Zlatan arrived.

“This is a team effort. This is what I came for – to win and I am winning. The more I win the more satisfied I get,” Ibrahimovic said. “You appreciate it more the older you get. Wherever I have gone I have won. I think this is trophy number 32 for me. This is what I predicted. To many I could not do it. My friend, I keep doing it. I’m enjoying it in England.”

Zlatan’s character, along with Mourinho’s guidance, explains why United could now go on and win the FA Cup and Europa League and also finish in the top four in the Premier League. Zlatan is a winner. It may not be pretty and sometimes, like Sunday, it may not be deserved, but class and experience counts for so much.

Mourinho’s trophy haul is why he is stil the most coveted manager in the world, despite the debacle at Chelsea last season and his antics. On Sunday he become just the third manager (after Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough) to win four League Cups. At Chelsea he won the trophy three times in the past, gaining momentum from all three of those successes as he builds a ruthless machine. Mourinho will be given the money to buy the best players on the planet this summer and things will improve as his overhaul continues.

It’s not a well-oiled machine yet but it’s getting there. Winning trophies like this will help United get back to the top quicker. Mourinho said he side “had a bit of luck because the 3-2 came for us at a moment when it was difficult for them to react.”

He also reflected on how important this trophy win was for his team.

“I am very happy, as I was saying before it is important for the club, fans, players, I always try to put myself in a secondary position,” Mourinho said. “It is also important for me. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted very much to win a major trophy with every club. By doing that with Manchester United it is quite a sense of relief. It was a big target for me to win a trophy at Manchester United. The reality is that we want more and more. My contract is long. I have two more years plus this win. Hopefully I can win something. This season, I know it is difficult, but the reality is that we have to try to fight for more.”

This may be the start of another special era for Mourinho and Manchester United.