Landon Donovan

Did Landon Donovan’s World Cup omission force him into early retirement?


Was Landon Donovan always planning to retire at the end of the 2014 Major League Soccer season, or was his hand forced?

The real reasons behind his decision will likely come out in the coming days and weeks, but it has certainly been one heck of a summer for the all-time leading scorer in MLS and the U.S. national team.

[RELATED: Donovan to retire]

At the end of May, Donovan was shockingly left off the USA’s final 23-man World Cup roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as his chance to play in a fourth-straight World Cup for the Stars and Stripes was taken away from him.

Donovan’s fall from grace with the national team could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

After taking a self imposed sabbatical during the 2013 offseason, then coming back stronger than ever to lead the U.S. to Gold Cup success in 2013 and prove himself to Klinsmann once again, the damage done to Donovan’s pride at being left off the World Cup roster this summer seems to have been lasting.

[RELATED: LD hails U.S. fans as “lifeblood”]

Just days after his omission was confirmed, Donovan, in true fashion, showed the USA what they would be missing as he scored twice vs. Philadelphia to become Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer. Time and time again Donovan proved the doubters wrong and now he has achieved pretty much everything you can as a professional soccer player.

source: Getty Images
One of Donovan;s finest moments came at the 2010 World Cup. His last-gasp goal sent the USMNT through to the last 16.

He has scored at two different World Cups for the USA. He has played in, scored more goals, and played in more MLS All-Star Game games than any other player. He has played in the Bundesliga and the Premier League for historic clubs. He is the all-time leading scorer for the USA with 57 goals in 156 games. He is the all-time leading scorer in MLS with 138 goals in 320 appearances.

Donovan has been the face of the league and soccer in North America for well over a decade and has stuck to his task or constantly promoting the game, rallying behind the U.S. Soccer Federation and MLS to do whatever he can to help raise soccer’s profile. Then, as Klinsmann deemed his play to not be good enough for the USA’s efforts in Brazil this summer, Donovan was cast aside and humiliated.

Donovan’s swansong for the USA was taken away from him.

Justified or not. That must have accelerated his decision to retire at the age of 32. With the 2015 Gold Cup, 2016 Copa America and perhaps even the 2018 World Cup coming up for the USA and Donovan, had Klinsmann selected the LA forward this summer, maybe Donovan’s career would have lasted for another three or four years. Players like David Beckham, Thierry Henry and many others have continued into their late 30’s before calling it quits.

Instead for Donovan, it’s almost over. His U.S. omission has a lot to do with it.

Yes, Donovan thrived and enjoyed being the face of MLS. However, his time leading the U.S. national team was seemingly over, and that may have been enough to make him reconsider his future as a pro. With no more U.S. duty for Donovan, playing solely in MLS week-in, week-out, for the next few years may not have been enough.

He has tasted success as the face of the USA’s soccer hopes. Now, a man who has spent most of his time in the spotlight was reduced to league play. Nothing less, nothing more. That’s okay for some players but not Donovan.

On the face of it, perhaps this was the right time for Donovan to step down. On Wednesday he jumped off the bench in Portland, arguably the center of soccer’s uprising in North America, in front of a packed house and scored the game-winning goal against German giants Bayern Munich (a team he once played for, but got a rough deal with) in the All-Star Game. He then left the pitch to a standing ovation. Since he made his debut for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001, the league has grown exponentially and the state of soccer in North America has never been healthier. Donovan is a big part of that. Ask any casual soccer fan, or just any sports fans, to name the first U.S. soccer player that comes in to their head. Now, and for the foreseeable future, I bet they say: Landon Donovan.

Now, we know when Donovan’s fairytale career will come to a close. Whether he gets one last chance to suit up for the U.S. or finishes everything off in style by winning MLS Cup 2014 with the LA Galaxy remains to be seen.

The way Donovan’s storybook career has played out over the years, you’d be a fool to bet against it. The king of soccer in the USA has almost left the building. The first truly great American soccer player will be sorely missed.

Was this the right time for Donovan to hang up his boots?

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.