Do not weep for Landon Donovan, for a new star shall be born

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In 2009, scientists couldn’t figure out why star Cassiopeia A, which had gone supernova just 330 years ago, was emitting strange x-rays.

With the help of new data, they finally arrived at the conclusion that the exploding star had actually birthed a baby neutron star, and we were witnessing a brilliant moment in space history.

“It turns out that Cas A may be a gift from the Universe because we would have to catch a very young neutron star at just the right point in time,” said Ohio University scientist Madappa Prakash back in 2009.

America just observed the career of its very own Cassiopeia A come to an end, calling time on one of the greatest gifts to the US soccer Universe, and we’re only just realizing what we’ve witnessed. Of course, he departed a champion, defeating the New England Revolution 2-1 in yesterday’s MLS Cup Final, because we wouldn’t want it any other way.

But there is so much more from his career than trophies.

“I absolutely want to work with kids,” Donovan said when announcing his retirement. “I spoke to (Chris) Klein extensively about working with the Academy. That for me would be a really good way to come full circle. I fully expect that that will happen at some point.”  That circle has yet to completely connect, but it’s well on its way.

The Blond Haired Punk

“Landon Donovan’s ability to run away from defenders, run away from players, and be fit for 90-plus minutes and to play thousands of games in his career and stay healthy,” former USMNT player Taylor Twellman remarked, “I don’t know if he gets enough credit for that.”

Landon Donovan departed the playing field for the last time. He will no longer grace stadiums in the United States and beyond. Goodbye San Jose Earthquakes. Goodbye to Everton. Goodbye to the LA Galaxy. And most importantly, goodbye to the US National team. But it wasn’t always this nostalgic. He began with vigor, but with naivety as well.

“I remember the first time meeting Landon Donovan, with his blond hair and being a little bit of a punk,” Twellman said. “And then I remember my first training with him, and he blew everyone out of the water.”

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A young Landon Donovan led San Jose to the MLS Cup in 2001 and 2003 but rubbed some people the wrong way with a brash attitude.

Donovan’s career was the prototypical bell curve. That “punk” kid rubbed many the wrong way in the early going. Bruce Arena discovered Landon while managing DC United, and even he was a bit put off. I asked the 63-year-old to expand on his long-held belief that his first impression of Landon was not a positive one.

“He shot his mouth off, he was a wise guy, but he certainly backed it up with his play on the field,” Arena said. “That was my first impression of him, but not my last impression of him. He was a pretty typical American teenager at that time.”

And that’s what makes his story so magnetizing. Many young people – new, impressionable sports fans watching soccer for the first time – could identify with this kid, with this “punk.” And the American public wanted him to succeed, not just because he is American, but because we wanted ourselves to succeed vicariously through him, to transform with him.

Make no mistake, there will never be another Landon Donovan. One could rattle off all the achievements and numbers he holds that have been hammered into our brains, but records are meant to be broken, and as long as the national team continues to produce and Major League Soccer remains intact, they will eventually be broken.

Records may fall, but there will never be another trailblazer.

“There aren’t that many players that are going to be able to give us what Landon gave us over a long period of time,” Arena said.

But that’s precisely the point.

Ability is given but intangibles are not

Of all Landon Donovan’s great accomplishments for the sport in this country, his greatest is without a doubt the most ironic. For a man who prided himself greatly for his accomplishments on the field, he has left the sport in this country poised to slingshot its next big star – his replacement in the spotlight – to even greater heights than he could achieve. Donovan laid the groundwork for what soccer in the United States can become by priming the nation’s viewers to envision what it can potentially achieve. And a lot of it has to do with his maturation.

“Landon’s done a lot of things off the field as an elder statesman not only with younger players but with other players around the league,” said Arena. “He set the tone for the American player in the league, and hopefully as pay scales improve, he will continue to be a quiet voice behind the teams in collective bargaining on the player’s side. So there’s a lot of things that he’s done as he’s matured as a person and player, and it’s been an important part of growing the sport and growing his legend as well.”

Just look back to how Landon’s miss on the 2014 World Cup resonated through the mainstream American public. It was a huge deal – and rightly so – that US Soccer’s most marketable star was absent from the selection.

Soccer in the United States is by no means a fledgling enterprise. The sport has been smoldering in the shadows for decades, awaiting a moment of true eruption. The catalyst has been provided, and now the stars of tomorrow are tasked with sparking the blast.

Along those lines, an individual can be a pioneer without being the first. Christopher Columbus was by no means the first European explorer to discover the New World – that would be Leif Erikssen, nearly 500 years prior to Columbus’s voyages. But the Italian was the most successful at popularizing the influx of exploration and growth to the region that would follow.

source: Getty Images
Bob Bradley spent years coaching Landon Donovan and saw him grow and change throughout his career.

“Growing up and seeing where he’s at today, I think the most important thing is to know that anything is possible,” said young US talent Greg Garza.

“We have an American guy that maybe in the beginning the US wasn’t that soccer-based, we didn’t have that much ‘umph’ about ourselves in the soccer world, and he’s really raised the bar for so many people around the world, and he’s really set a standard for all of us.”

Thing is, Garza’s not exactly right.

Building a foundation

When it comes to results in the World Cup – the only measuring stick that truly matters among the populous – the US national team actually hasn’t improved all that much since Landon took the field.

Before Donovan’s first World Cup in 2002, the US had made it out of the group stage once in the previous three years. In the next three with Landon, the US made it out twice. But the country never got past the quarterfinals, and were eliminated in the first group stage match once with Landon and once without.

But perception is reality, and he was able to achieve what no one else could in this country: open the floodgates of mass appeal. To put it simply, Donovan put butts in seats. More importantly, he put butts on couches. In front of televisions.

“When you look at everything that goes into growing a league, it’s incredible how far things have come [in Major League Soccer],” said former MLS and USMNT manager Bob Bradley. “That includes better TV packages, better visibility, and Landon certainly deserves a big mention because he was always committed to Major League Soccer.”

And it wasn’t just in the United States. Landon went abroad to play with Everton hoping to exorcise some early European demons, and he was an instant hit with Toffee fans despite playing just 22 matches for the Blue of Goodison Park. And it all started with his play on the field.

“He arrived at the perfect time in the 2010 season. With Baines and Pienaar, the team papercut opponents down the left flank,” said Roger Bennett, Men in Blazers co-host and die-hard Everton supporter. “Landon gave them a right side threat for the first time and forced opponents to worry about both sides of the field. His impact was immediate and evident for all to see. Landon was the perfect fit tactically for them. He grabbed the opportunity with a tremendous zeal and the fans responded in kind.

“The two cameo loan spells were fleeting but their intensity negated the charge that Landon could not hack it at the elite level. To this day, Everton fans harbor fond memories of Landon.  They talk about him with full-throated praise in a way I believe far more Americans will with the healing perspective of time.”

Donovan’s time in England was nice, but it didn’t define him. As Bradley said, he was committed to MLS.

The ultimate assist

Finally, Donovan has been dedicated to ushering in new talent in any way he can. He’s been doing it all along, and the recipients of his guidance are taking notice.

source: Getty Images
Landon has played his best ball in the MLS Cup, and that was no different this year, even though it’s his last.

“My first big call-up was against Holland in Amsterdam,” said Alejandro Bedoya of his first experience with Landon Donovan, “Before the game I remember him coming over to me and putting his hand over my shoulder and telling me ‘hey you’re here for a reason, go out there, prove yourself, just play your game, and most important just have fun and enjoy it. It’s going to be a great game.’ I’ll always remember that, it spoke volumes about him.”

“For me when I first started on the national team,” Jozy Altidore remembered, “being a young guy he always gave me confidence and was always quick to try and make sure I was focused and when I wasn’t focused he’d let me know. That was important…that’s important for any young player, to have a player that has influence in the team to help bring you along.”

But just when we thought the end might be here, Donovan returned to that brash kid who had the confidence of a Navy SEAL on a mission, and told the world “not just yet.” Just a month ago in the MLS Cup – where Donovan had arguably played his best soccer through the course of his career – the US legend scored a hat trick at home (because, of course he did) plus an assist in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals against Real Salt Lake in a game where coming in the Galaxy needed a win to move on. They won. By a lot.

With the retirement of a legend, the growth of Donovan’s career and parallel growth of the sport in the country will allow the next big US soccer icon to become a mainstream star athlete within the fabric of sports in the United States.

Donovan was once the brightest beacon of hope guiding MLS ships to safety on the rocky and treacherous shore of American sports. Now, as his bulb burns for the final time, he can be content in knowing the waters are becoming safer. Many will come after him and bring soccer to new heights, but for Landon, his greatest gift was one he couldn’t help but give.

“When it’s all said and done, we only get one life – some careers are long, some careers are short – Landon can say he did it his way,” said Twellman. “And very few athletes can say that. I’m not saying it was easy for him by any means, he took some heavy criticism. But when it’s all said and done, I don’t think Landon will have any regrets, and you have to respect the hell out of that.”

By the way, this is Cassiopeia A:

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From a kid whose mother, in his first soccer game as a child, was hoping he wouldn’t “get his feelings hurt” we have been lucky enough to witness an extraordinary career. Sometimes when you step back and look at the big picture, the result is pure beauty, even if complicated.

It’s not over for number 10. He told ESPN’s Wayne Drehs that he’ll be coaching soon. But in true Donovan fashion, he was quick to clarify what he meant. “Youth soccer. The pros? I can’t deal with the egos.” Obviously.

Thanks Landon and congratulations on the win, you sure are a LegenD. Now the United States will look for someone new to fill the void in their own way.

Dest: Best decision was stay with US and not switch to Dutch

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DAVENPORT, Fla. (AP) Sergino Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. national team rather than switch to the Netherlands got a mixed reaction from his Ajax teammates.

“Some of them, they didn’t like it,” Dest said. “Some of them, they said just: `Congratulations: You followed your heart. So that’s always good.”

An 18-year-old outside back who has become an Ajax regular this season, Dest made his U.S. national team debut in September and played exhibitions against Mexico and Uruguay. He skipped last month’s CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba and Canada in order to keep his options open, then announced Oct. 28 he was committing to the U.S. program long-term.

“It’s a hard decision, of course, because you are for both of them,” Dest said Wednesday, two days before he likely will make his senior national team competitive debut. “I just made my own decision. It’s my life. If it’s not working out well. I’m the one who is dealing with the trouble.”

Dest has a Surinamese-American father and Dutch mother. He came up through the U.S. youth national team programs, playing for the Americans at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup and the 2019 Under-20 World Cup.

The Dutch national team, winner of the 1988 European Championship and a three-time World Cup finalist, tried to persuade Dest to ask FIFA for a switch of affiliation. Dest’s American youth team background was stressed by U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter and U.S. Soccer Federation sporting director Earnie Stewart when they had lunch with Dest and his father, Ken, on Oct. 24, the day after Dest and Ajax played Chelsea and American star Christian Pulisic in the Champions League.

Dest announced his decision on Oct. 28 and will be cap-tied once he appears in a competitive match.

“He is part of our future and we’re going to make sure that he develops himself to a player that will perform in ’22 and ’26,” Stewart said Tuesday. “What happened in his youth national team career helped the conversations with Sergimo, with his father, with his management in securing him for our U.S. national team, which is great for the program.”

Dest’s decision came 21 months after Monterrey midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez, now 20, switched to Mexico after coming up through the American youth national team program.

LA Galaxy midfielder Efrai­n Ãlvarez, also eligible for the U.S. and Mexico, has made four starts and once substitute appearance for El Tri as it advanced to a Thursday semifinal against the Dutch at the Under-17 World Cup.

Dest said his time with the U.S. program “might be the biggest influence” in his choice.

“I think I made the right decision,” Dest added. “Now I have to make sure that I made a good one and show what I’ve got.”

Stewart, now 50, grew up in the Netherlands with a Dutch mother and a father who was in the U.S. Air Force. He, too, played for a Dutch club and joined the U.S. national team, and played in three World Cups while scoring 17 goals in 101 international appearances from 1990-2004.

“It was very, very similar,” Stewart said, comparing their histories. “His father played an important role, very proud American, ex-military veteran that’s in Europe right now. Very proud that his son is going to play for the U.S. national team as my father was for me.”

Stewart’s experience resonated with Dest.

“It’s always good to hear from people that are also Dutch-American, and they also have a story in the U.S.,” Dest said. “My decision that I made, I listened to everybody’s advice, but it’s just a decision I’m making.”

Dest said his father was pleased, as was his mom.

“I think if I go play for the Netherlands, he would also be happy. He’s just happy when I’m happy. He’s a dad,” Dest said. “They’re just like, `OK, if you want to make that decision then, it’s your life. You have to make your own decisions.”

The U.S., rebuilding after its failure to reach last year’s World Cup, hosts Canada on Friday night at Orlando in another Nations League match, then finishes group play against Cuba at George Town, Cayman Islands. To advance to the semifinals, the Americans must win both games and overcome a goal difference of four against Canada.

In a game Dest skipped last month, the U.S. lost 2-0 at Toronto.

“That’s not going to happen the next game on Friday,” Dest said. “We’re not going to lose.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Chelsea Ladies sign NWSL superstar Sam Kerr

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Sam Kerr is heading to London.

The Australian megastar is leaving the Chicago Red Stars for Chelsea after scoring two MVP awards in the National Women’s Soccer League (2017, 2019).

[ MORE: NYCFC teen off to Gladbach ]

Kerr, 26, has 38 goals in 83 caps for the Lady Matildas, scoring four times in one World Cup match against Jamaica last summer.

Her 69 goals are the most in an NWSL career, and she admits it was a challenge to leave her comfort zone and head to Europe.

“Probably the part that was most difficult was leaving friends and the US because I’ve created such a home there, but it was just time for me to make a change. And once I had my eyes set on Europe, it was kind of an easy decision to choose Chelsea as a club.”

It’s a huge signing for Chelsea, who is leading the table through five matches with an unbeaten 4W-1D record. She’ll join the team in January.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says goodbye to the LA Galaxy

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has bid adieu to Major League Soccer, thanking the LA Galaxy for “making me feel alive again.”

The Swedish superstar averaged nearly a goal per game with the Galaxy, and was rumored to be in line for another two years at the club.

[ MORE: Columbus acquires Nagbe ]

Perhaps those reports, and maybe AC Milan’s struggles to score goals, have made more suitors come forward. Time will tell.

The Galaxy said the decision was a “mutual parting of ways” and thanked the player for his work both on and off the pitch.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“We would like to thank Zlatan for his contributions to the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer,” said LA Galaxy President Chris Klein. “Since his arrival in 2018, Zlatan has positively influenced the sport of soccer in Los Angeles. We are grateful for his work ethic and passion. We thank Zlatan for his professionalism and immeasurable impact on the Los Angeles community and the soccer community in North America as a whole.”

Zlatan’s full thoughts, below, were a bit more Zlatanny.

Klein will have his hands full in replacing Ibrahimovic, who scored 52 times in 53 matches, but the Galaxy have always managed to bring in big names.

Getting a star playmaker is even more important as El Trafico rivals LAFC have rewritten the MLS record book and snared plenty of attention in California and across the league.

Columbus acquires Nagbe from Atlanta for $1M in allocation

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Darlington Nagbe is headed for a reunion with old boss Caleb Porter.

Columbus has sent over $1 million in allocation money to Atlanta United in order to claim the influential midfielder.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

Porter coached Nagbe at the University of Akron and the Portland Timbers, and has 25 USMNT caps but has turned down Gregg Berhalter’s requests for service.

Nagbe made 46 appearances across all competitions for the Five Stripes this season, scoring twice with five assists. He has 313 matches played between Portland and Atlanta.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Darlington Nagbe is a proven winner and the type of player who can be a difference-maker in our team,” Crew SC president and GM Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. “In addition to his skill set, we believe that Darlington is someone whose character and values fit well within our organization. As we stated heading into this offseason, we continue to look both domestically and internationally for players that will make our team better, and we believe Darlington is an important part of those efforts.”

It’s a bold statement from Columbus, who had a reputation for getting the most of its talent under Berhalter but faded under Porter after a hot start. The Crew began 2019 with a 4-1-1 record but lost 13 of its next 15 matches.

Of course, being MLS, the Crew then only lost 2 of their final 13 matches. Shoulder shrug emoji.