Donovan believes Lampard, Gerrard misjudged MLS

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It’s safe to say Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard did not enjoy stellar starts to life in Major League Soccer.

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The duo both arrived in MLS midway through the 2015 season — something which I wrote about at length for SportsWorld — and with Gerrard’s LA dumped out of the postseason at the first hurdle and Lampard’s NYCFC not even  making it, the Premier League legends were left scratching their heads.

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Gerrard, 35, and Lampard, 37, have found life in MLS tough as the style of play is different and the travel requirements, media commitments and everything else in-between has seen them struggled to settle in. Gerrard scored twice in 11 games, Lampard three times in 10 appearances and neither looked comfortable in the confines of North America’s top-flight. 

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So, while those two midfielders get used to playing in MLS, a man who knows plenty about the league is U.S. national team and MLS legend Landon Donovan. The LA Galaxy star, who retired from soccer in December 2014, was in England last week to play in David Beckham’s UNICEF charity game at Old Trafford and was asked about Gerrard and Lampard’s initial struggles in MLS.

“They have been perceived well but it’s not easy,” Donovan explained. “Sometimes people have this impression that you can go there and it will be easy – people from the outside. The players will tell you – and I think Steven has spoken about it openly – it’s quite difficult. Not because there is more quality from Liverpool but it’s difficult to travel and the pace of the game is fast. The Premier League is probably the fastest in the world but the pace [in the U.S.] is faster than you realise. There are a lot of different issues so I think both of them will come back next year and be more prepared and make a much bigger impact.”

After the 2015 campaign ended prematurely for both Gerrard and Lampard, each have spoken openly about the issues Donovan raised. Gerrard said the following when reflecting on a disappointing campaign for LA.

“Going on the road, playing on turf, playing at altitude, playing in humidity, those are the hurdles that I’ve had to face over the last three months that I wasn’t aware of. Every away game has a different challenge.”

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The issue I have is that how is that the word must surely be getting around now about the different factors present in MLS compared to the top leagues in Europe. Players of the highest caliber really shouldn’t be taken aback by a five-hour flight from LA to New York for a game or by playing in 100 degree weather in Houston in July. It’s always been that way and will always remain that way. I guess both LA and NYCFC will have prepared Gerrard and Lampard for the specific challenges MLS was about to throw at them but there’s nothing like experiencing it and trying to deal with it on the fly after arriving midway through the season. I guess everyone is different but as we saw up in Montreal, Didier Drogba didn’t seem to have too many issues adapting to life in MLS…

Anyway, as Donovan said, expect both Gerrard and Lampard to have a much bigger impact in MLS in 2016 as they become accustomed to the quirky, yet lovable, world of MLS.