Distorted reality: Donovan’s comments understate problems with his candidacy

35 Comments

Eddie Johnson played his way out of Brazil. Brad Evans’ injuries and play certainly didn’t help his standing in the U.S.’s battle at right back. Their candidacies for Brazil 2014 may have been doomed by other factors, but after playing regular roles in World Cup qualifying, neither U.S. international did themselves any favors through the first two months of the Major League Soccer season.

Landon Donovan is in that group, too, but unlike Evans and Johnson, the U.S. icon didn’t have a litany of qualifying contributions to fall back on. Last month’s camp in Arizona as well as his play throughout the MLS season were even more important. While Donovan hasn’t been terrible for the Galaxy this season, he has played well below his standards, creating a World Cup candidacy that was more about legacy and potential than the form he carried into Palo Alto, Calif.

Tellingly, Donovan doesn’t see it that way. Speaking to the media for the first time since Thursday’s surprise announcement, the 32-year-old pointed to his “performances’ before the U.S.’s May camp as part of the reason he deserved a place in Brazil:

“Based on my performances leading up to camp, based on my preparation for the camp, based on my fitness, based on my workload, based on the way I trained and played in camp, I not only thought I was a part of the 23, I thought I was in contention to be starting. That’s why this has all been pretty disappointing.”

Donovan has every right to be disappointed. There’s a strong case to be made that, even amid a slow start to the season, he is one of the 23 best U.S. soccer players available. To act like his current play reflects that, however, trivializes the complexities of his candidacy.

If one of Donovan’s arguments to be included is “performances leading into camp,” what is he looking at? A season with the Galaxy that’s seen Stefan Ishizaki and Baggio Husidic play as well as one of the team’s Designated Players? Based on that alone, Klinsmann is more than justified in doubting whether Donovan would have an impact in Brazil.

If Donovan’s “preparation for the camp” was so strong, why didn’t we see that on the field in the weeks leading up to his arrival in Palo Alto? Perhaps that was just the fluke of a small sample, but the returns from the sample were no different from what we’ve seen from Donovan throughout the season. While he hasn’t been as bad as his more ardent detractors claim, Donovan never made the case for his indispensability in Brazil.

While talking to the press on Saturday, Donovan noted he’s traditionally very level-headed when evaluating his own performance, but his descriptions of his recent performances don’t reflect reality. Going into Palo Alto, he’d done nothing to move off the bubble that’d formed post-Mexico. If Donovan had a case for Brazil, it wasn’t on the strength of his MLS performances.

source: AP
Through seven games this MLS season, Landon Donovan has no goals and two assists. His next goal will leave him alone on top of MLS’s all-time scoring list. (Photo: AP)

That he can’t recognize his own struggles hints at a huge dissonance – a difference between his perception of his candidacy and what we’ve seen over the last two months. Did the same view that saw his pre-camp performances as World Cup-caliber also overvalue his fitness? Donovan needed to show up to Northern California in better shape than he did in Arizona. How much really changed in the month between the April friendly and the May camp?

Potentially a lot, but Donovan may be suffering from the same biases that undermine every person’s ability to assess their own strengths. He’s created a standard that’s put a premium on something he’s capable of attaining: competitiveness in the May camp.

From Klinsmann’s point of view, that standard may have never existed. Talking about how well he performed in Palo Alto, Donovan implies outplaying teammates in one week’s worth of workouts should overshadow the information Klinsmann collected over the last three years. Clearly, it did not.

It’s reasonable for Klinsmann to side with all that information instead of one week’s worth. It’s also reasonable for Donovan to expect being named to the 30-man roster meant he time to improve his case. That, unfortunately, is the saddest part of this saga. There is no right or wrong, here. There’s only what could have been.

Klinsmann and Donovan are both intelligent men, particularly as it concerns soccer. Unfortunately, they could never get on the same page. After three years with Klinsmann as his coach, Donovan still didn’t know what it took to make the World Cup.

FIFA probe: Al-Khelaifi confirms his presence in Switzerland

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi says he will go to Switzerland next Wednesday to answer questions from Swiss prosecutors investigating the suspected bribery of a top FIFA executive for World Cup broadcasting rights.

Criminal proceedings against Al-Khelaifi, who is also CEO of Qatar-owned BeIN Media Group, former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, and an unnamed businessman working in sports rights were announced by the office of Switzerland’s attorney general last week.

The case involves the award of broadcast rights for the next four World Cups from 2018 through 2030.

Al-Khelaifi is alleged to have offered advantages to Valcke – FIFA’s CEO-like secretary general from 2007 until his firing in January 2016 – for the award of media rights in certain countries for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup.

Speaking Wednesday night on Canal Plus television, after PSG’s 4-0 win away to Anderlecht in the Champions League, Al-Khelaifi confirmed his trip to Switzerland.

“I have an appointment on the 25th. I will go there to speak with them, the Swiss (authorities),” said Khelaifi, who attended Wednesday’s match in Belgium. “That’s all.”

The proceeding against Al-Khelaifi is one of the first direct links to Qatar in sweeping investigations by federal law enforcement authorities in Switzerland, the United States, and France concerning FIFA, international soccer, and the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.

Last week, the Paris offices of BeIN Sports were searched. Properties were searched in Greece, Italy, and Spain while Valcke was questioned in Switzerland.

Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

John Walton/PA via AP
Leave a comment

The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.

Probe finds racial discrimination by England women’s coach

Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) Former England women’s team coach Mark Sampson racially discriminated against two of his players, a fresh Football Association investigation has concluded after initially dismissing allegations of wrongdoing and prompting a damaging public row with striker Eni Aluko.

Sampson was cleared of discrimination by earlier FA investigations but was fired last month because of an unrelated case of inappropriate conduct toward players in a previous job.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Only now has a barrister considered new evidence about Sampson’s conduct toward England internationals Aluko and Drew Spence, with the details being released ahead of a parliamentary hearing.

“I have concluded that on two separate occasions, MS (Sampson) has made ill-judged attempts at humor, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on grounds of race,” barrister Katharine Newton wrote in the report.

One racially discriminatory comment by Sampson in 2014 toward Aluko requested her family members from Nigeria didn’t come to a game because of Ebola.

“MS (Sampson) did treat EA (Aluko) less favorably than he would have treated a player who was not of African descent,” Newton wrote. “MS had therefore subjected EA to less favorable treatment because of her ethnicity.”

During a team meeting in 2015, Sampson also asked Spence if she had been to prison, and then suggested she had been arrested four times. Newton concluded that the comment was made “because of her ethnicity.”

[ MORE: Hamid leaving DC United ]

FA chief executive Martin Glenn apologized to Aluko and Spence before the hearing. But Aluko told legislators that Glenn’s earlier conduct toward her was “bordering on blackmail” after he threatened to withhold payments from an 80,000 pound ($105,000) financial settlement unless she published a statement saying the FA “was not institutionally racist.”

With Aluko sitting behind him, Glenn later told the hearing that the player had not been blackmailed.

Instead Glenn said that an August tweet by Aluko – “at least we now know the FA’s stance on derogatory racial remarks by an England manager. Ignore, deny, endorse” – was a “clear breach of the agreement.”

Aluko, who was part of the team that finished third at the 2015 World Cup, has not played for England since making her 102nd appearance in April 2016.

There was a more apologetic tone from Glenn in his written statement on Wednesday, saying that Sampson’s conduct was “not acceptable” and he “would like to sincerely apologize” to Aluko and Spence.

“Our ambition has always been to find the truth and take swift and appropriate action if needed,” Glenn said. “It was our decision to have the original, second and final investigation to ensure that due diligence was taken. It is regrettable that Eniola did not participate in the first external investigation as this would have enabled Katharine Newton to conduct and complete her investigation sooner.”

Report: Hamid leaving DC United to “push himself” elsewhere

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
2 Comments

Bill Hamid is taking his talents elsewhere.

The 26-year-old has been with DC United since 2007, making an even 200 appearances across all competitions.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Hamid is thrice capped by the United States and widely considering to be one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, but the Washington Post’s Steven Goff says Hamid wants to showcase himself on a new stage.

“I want to push myself and see how far I can go because I know I have the work ethic and the hunger to take myself very far in this game. I know I can make it to the next level.”

Hamid is likely to wind up in Europe, and Goff said Danish club Midtjylland is the favorite. He’s also been scouted by Eintracht Frankfurt.

With a new United States men’s national team coach set to be appointed and Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando all on the back end of their time with the USMNT, Hamid has to look at himself as competing with Ethan Horvath and any number of young prospects.

Horvath is 22 and starting for Club Brugge. If their season continues on its pace, he’ll have a Belgian title and a Norwegian title under his belt.

U-20 players Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), Brady Scott (Koln), and Justin Vom Steeg (Fortuna Dusseldorf) are in German systems, while U-17 World Cup starters CJ dos Santos is at Benfica.

Age when making European debut and club
Tim Howard, 24, Manchester United
Brad Friedel, 23, Newcastle United
Brad Guzan, 23, Aston Villa
Kasey Keller, 23, Millwall
Tony Meola, 21, Brighton and Hove Albion
Ethan Horvath, 19, Molde