A Guardian report suggests that LA Galaxy mainstay Landon Donovan may move to Everton on loan this winter. After a poor tour with Bayer Leverkusen early in his career and a strong showing with Bayern Munich in limited action earlier this year, this may be a big break for both Donovan and American soccer.
The line of thinking that demands a star American player's success in European leagues as evidence of talent would presumably be satisfied with Donovan acquitting himself for Everton, but this means more than that. Most American players who left the MLS for European leagues went out of sight and out of mind (see Brian McBride's Fulham tenure), but Donovan's loan would come at a time when ESPN shows English Premier League games live. American fans could see him play without traveling to pubs. That would be a boon for aspiring soccerheads who could watch, from the comfort of their couch, probably the greatest current American player carrying the Stars and Stripes admirably in a top-class league; moving to an international league with American TV presence makes this a move with significant potential upside.
It also comes with risk. American fans could see Donovan fail, and it would be a more public faltering than his Bayer Leverkusen troubles. This move is best in theory, where Donovan will go and play well. That would bolster fellow Americans' cases as European league prospects, help the game grow in the U.S. as our sense of belonging on the international stage swells, and, most importantly, give Donovan the sort of form needed to be an impact player in next summer's World Cup. But should Donovan falter, all those positives turn into negatives: The best American player not passing muster would have a ripple effect on lesser talents, American fans would be disappointed, and Donovan being off-form heading into South Africa could be catastrophic for the team he catalyzes.
This is, to my mind, bigger than David Beckham coming to America. Donovan, at 27, is still in his prime and can be expected to contribute more on the field than in the media. Beckham's value was based partly on his celebrity and comportment adding legitimacy to MLS; his skill on the field has been a pleasant surprise. Donovan would add no such celebrity to the EPL. He will be judged by his performance as a soccer player. He will be celebrated if he contributes excellence, and that will extend to American soccer in general. And if he is less than the brilliant player he can often be, he may be condemned as a player best-suited to competing against lesser MLS competition; that, too, would have far-reaching repercussions, and far more than he faced after leaving Leverkusen.
Landon Donovan, as always, has much riding on his shoulders. Watching him stand tall or shrink will be one of the better dramas of this spring.â†µ
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