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.

On-loan Manchester United striker James Wilson suffers ACL tear

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 06:  James Wilson of Manchester United celebrates scoring the second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Hull City at Old Trafford on May 6, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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James Wilson‘s loan spell at Derby County has likely been cut brutally short.

Having made just four league appearances for the Rams since being loaned to the Championship side from Manchester United this summer, the 21-year-old ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in training on Monday, and has since seen the damage confirmed by tests.

The club announced the injury on Friday, with manager Steve McClaren saying in a statement, “It’s incredibly disappointing news that James has suffered an injury like this. Only last week I was saying how much I was looking forward to working with him because he is an exciting young talent. I know that he will bounce back from this disappointment, especially as well as being a very good player he is also a strong and determined character.”

It’s possible that Wilson misses the entire rest of the season due to the injury, although a six-month layoff would see him able to possibly return by late April.

Of Wilson’s four league appearances for Derby, he started in three of them but failed to log more than 65 minutes in any game. He did not score across those four appearances, although he did net for the club’s academy side in an EFL trophy match with Doncaster in early October.

Wilson has made 20 appearances across all competitions for his parent club Manchester United, scoring a brace against Hull City in his Premier League debut in May of 2014. However, he has not appeared for the Red Devils in nearly two years, instead seeing time on loan at Brighton Hove & Albion for much of last season before moving to Derby before the season. Wilson’s loss is a big one for the Rams, who are struggling in 20th place in the Championship table after narrowly missing out on a chance at promotion each of the past three seasons.

Brazil names squad to face trauma and Messi in WC qualifiers

BRASILIA, BRAZIL - JUNE 23: (L-R) Willian, Neymar and David Luiz of Brazil react after defeating Cameroon 4-1 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Cameroon and Brazil at Estadio Nacional on June 23, 2014 in Brasilia, Brazil.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil not only faces Argentina in World Cup qualifying next month but also the ghost of the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals, coach Tite said on Friday.

Brazil plays Lionel Messi’s side in the same Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte on Nov. 10. Five days later, Brazil is in Peru.

[ MORE: Neymar signs new deal ]

“The psychological work has been perfectly placed. We have to see that two years have passed. That time has brought us maturity,” Tite said at his squad announcement. “It is the same stadium, but we have to know that this is a different moment.”

There were few changes to the squad, which features the return of Bayern Munich winger Douglas Costa and Real Madrid defender Marcelo after injuries, and the absence of Chelsea midfielder Oscar.

Tite started out with convincing victories against Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Venezuela, which lifted Brazil from sixth position in South American qualifying to first. But his dream of coaching the five-time world champion will seem more real, he said, when they meet fifth-place Argentina and Messi.

“I am living a dream that every Brazilian coach has. To be in a Brazil v Argentina is a great honor,” he said. “To face Messi and all his virtues is such a challenge.”


Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma), Weverton (Atletico Paranaense), Alex Muralha (Flamengo).

Defenders: Dani Alves (Juventus), Fagner (Corinthians), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Miranda (Inter Milan), Gil (Shandong Luneng), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Rodrigo Caio (Sao Paulo).

Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Giuliano (Zenit St. Petersburg), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Lucas Lima (Santos), Willian (Chelsea).

Forwards: Douglas Costa (Bayern Munich), Gabriel Jesus (Palmeiras), Neymar (Barcelona), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool).

MLS weekend preview: Four playoff spots, Supporters’ Shield on the line

SANDY, UT - MARCH 12: Jordan Morris #13 of the Seattle Sounders FC and Chris Wingert #16 of Real Salt Lake try for the ball in the first half at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 12, 2016 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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First and foremost, for the unclear, our own Andy Edwards has put together a complete list of possibilities for MLS teams on Sunday’s final match day.

Read that here.

There will be a quick turnaround in on-field fortunes for some of Sunday’s competitors, and a nightmare of logistics for those remaining.

[ MORE: CONCACAF Champions League quarters set ]

As of right now, only three teams know their next match after Sunday; The Red Bulls, Colorado, and FC Dallas will get a full week to plan for whoever wins the knockout round matches.

The West remarkably still has three playoff spots on the line amongst four combatants. The remaining Western playoff team, LA, only knows that it will be home for one of the those four.

Over in the East, Philadelphia is likely to claim the final playoff spot barring a wild loss and a wild win for New England. But both Toronto and NYC are still up for first round byes, with the loser hosting a knockout game. DC and Montreal could still host knockout games as well.

It’s going to be a fun Sunday for the league, as every game has at least one opponent who needs a result. The marquee matches see a Cascadia Cup deciding match between Portland and Vancouver, a potential playoff decider between Seattle and RSL, and a tone-setter between LA and still Supporters’ Shield seeking FC Dallas.

Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire
Vancouver vs. Portland
LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas
Orlando City vs. DC United
Sporting KC vs. San Jose
New York City vs. Columbus
Seattle vs. Real Salt Lake
Colorado vs. Houston
Philadelphia vs. New York Red Bulls
New England vs. Montreal

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Score predictions for all 10 games

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace celebrates scoring his sides third goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Crystal Palace at the Stadium of Light on September 24, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
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Week 9 of the 2016-17 Premier League season is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEOS: Preview all 10 games ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


West Ham 2-0 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 3-0 Middlesbrough – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 1-3 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Swansea 2-0 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]


Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Manchester City 2-1 Southampton – (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 3-2 West Brom – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]


Leicester City 1-2 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 1-1 Tottenham – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]