One of the odd tendencies American soccer fans have is the need to simultaneously over-hype and over-criticize everything good to come our way, to both lionize and find fault with the best we produce. It’s almost as if we believe that if we accept something as being good enough, then we won’t deserve or receive the global domination we believe to be our inevitable destiny and divine birthright as Americans.
So when a young striker appeared on the scene, and we realized that he had the requisite qualities – the incisive speed, the preternatural balance and control at pace, the instinctive eye for goal, the ability to read the game – to be our best player yet, we did what we always do: pile on his shortcomings.
After Landon Donovan emerged on the world stage with his precocious display in the USMNT’s run to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, most American fans wished for him to take the next step and fly the stars and stripes in the top leagues of Europe.
Having conquered MLS (At the age of 21, he scored 16 goals in 26 games as his Earthquakes team won the Supporters Shield, and scored two in the MLS Cup Final to complete the double), surely the Premiership, La Liga, Bundesliga, or Serie A was the next place for our chosen proxy to manifest his, and vicariously our, destiny?
But he flopped. Having been loaned from his ostensible owning club, Bayer Leverkusen, to MLS between 2001 and 2004, he had no interest in going back to Germany, and made no secret of his desire to remain in the U.S., especially his California birthplace.
And what’s worse, he didn’t even have the decency to be bitter about it, like Clint Mathis did. He actually seemed to be happy playing in MLS. The sheer nerve of his lack of ambition was galling to the inferiority complex of American soccer. We had so few players with the requisite quality to make it in Europe, and he wanted to waste his best years in MLS?
It was at this time, around 2004-2005, when Landon halfheartedly ambled through a few Leverkusen matches and was allowed to return to MLS – this time with the Galaxy – that the insults came. “Mentally weak.” “No ambition.” ”Underachiever.” “Soft.” “Diver.”
Those accusations eventually coalesced into one moniker that epitomized the view of him as a spoiled waste of talent. At the same time, Brian McBride was busy making himself into the hero of a Premiership club and our national team through sheer force of will, and here was a player, with objectively more impressive natural gifts and a stronger support system (Donovan had gone through the residency program with US Soccer, while McBride was a product of the collegiate game), content to be the big fish in a small pond.
We called him “landycakes.”
And you know what? He gets why.
It’s funny. To be fair, it probably wasn’t completely inaccurate at some points of my career to have a nickname like that, so it’s fine. But I’ve had a lot worse things said about me so I can handle it.
I was soft earlier in my career, no question. Particularly in my first year in the league. I dove a lot, I would embellish a lot, I would whine a lot. And I still have moments when I do that now.
I know where that comes from and I’m an aware enough person and I’ve done enough work in my personal life to know where those things come from. And once you’re aware of it you can help change it.
Over the last five or six years now, I’ve spent a lot of time making sure that I’m the athlete I want to be and that I handle myself the way I want to handle myself on and off the field.
It’s not always perfect. But I want to make sure I do things the right way and I’m pretty sure if you asked guys around the league I don’t think there’s too many who think I’m soft.”
In the past few years, he’s become the all-time leader in USMNT goals and assists, proved himself in Europe with a successful loan stint at Everton, and helped take the US within 45 minutes of winning the Confederations Cup. From 2009 to 2010, he had one of the finest runs of form ever seen from an American soccer player, culminating in THAT GOAL against Algeria.
Source: Los Angeles Daily News