What We’re Learning About Landon….

A few months ago I did my worst piece ever…it was on Landon Donovan.

I’m back to make amends now….hopefully.

I’m not delving into whether or not Landon Donovan is best served or likely to overstay his loan with Everton. My position has remained firm that the MLS contract is a bargaining chip to getting more value from Donovan more than anything else.

No, this piece is about what we’re learning about LD10 as he comes up some of the best club competition in the world, fresh of Donny helping the Toffees to a 3-1 home victory today.


Here’s some quick thoughts on Landon’s play at Everton:

• Donovan is starting to look a little to me like Kaka, in terms of his impact on the game as well as his style.

Update: Skip in the comments section suggests Ryan Giggs…that might be more a more apt comparison.

I know that is a heady compliment, but I’m starting to see his game that way.

One of the things that I appreciate about players is their ability to make the simple pass and make it perfectly placed and accurate. This is why I enjoy Kaka’s game so much. Whether it’s just a quick square pass or a pass that threads the line on an attack it is often, with Kaka, perfect.

I’m starting to see that in Landon’s game. When people talk about Landon’s impact on Everton–and I’ve been an Everton fan for about 3 years–what I see is how his passing and team game play is contagious. He distributes with ease and his teammates are starting to emulate this, most specifically Steven Pienaar, who is a classic overdribbler.

On the unselfish side the interplay between Louis Saha, a noted keeper of the ball, and Donovan has been excellent as well. I think I counted about 5 times in the game when Donovan had the ball in the offensive third and he made the right play, which was a simple lay off to Saha.

The tactical difference between Kaka and Landon…Kaka is a much more vertical player (I think this makes him a little more dangerous) while Landon needs to attack more laterally to be effective.

• Where is Landon’s legendary fitness?

This is a more global observation than just Landon, but where is Donovan’s notorious fitness of being able to run all day?

I think what you’re seeing is Donovan struggling–in a good way–to adapt to the rigors of European and  EPL competition that’s coming at him in spades.

So far what we’ve learned is that Donovan is about a 70min participant against the highest quality competition in the world.

That’s not a bad thing, just an observation. He’ll get better. Right now Donovan’s picking his spots, but he’ll get to that “always-on” mode.

Adding multiple creators equals direct success

With such players as Louis Saha, Steven Pienaar and even Leighton Baines around Donovan, you are starting to see the impact that Landon can have when you surround him with similarly attack-minded players.

As we’ve said ad nauseum about Landon, “It’s the threat of the pass that makes him effective” and Landon’s nattie team success changed without Davies in front of him.

With multiple creators and finishers around him, you’re seeing this on display even more.

This goes all the way back to our third column in our Davies Striking Series in that position-wise Bob Bradley needs to find something ahead of Donovan to unlock his pitch genius and impact on the game.

Is it Jeff Cunningham? Gasp, Freddy Adu? Don’t think that Coach USA is not watching the interplay of Pienaar and Landon.

Goodbye England...goodbye Scotland....

Also, Landon alternates between being authoritative in the run of play and complementary. You wonder if he presses too much for the States while seeing his actions on the Goodison pitch.


Also an addendum here in case you missed it in our Man United – Everton preview piece:

On Donovan improving viewership and buzz:

TSG had a hypothesis that Landon Donovan’s presence likely increased the ratings for the February 6th derby with Liverpool.

Not the case. That match did a .3….thanks ESPN for getting us the data we couldn’t find.

Seven others matches have done a .3 this year and somewhat incredulously Liverpool has been involved in three of them.

Will the ratings go up for this one now that football is over…we’ll be watching (no pun intended).

Donovan, thanks to our friend Google Trends, has likely increased the search queries for the keyword “Everton.” Here take a look.

Note: As soon as the ratings come out for Saturday’s affair, we’ll let you know.

41 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Dylan on 2010/02/20 at 3:02 PM

    It’s nice to see Landon becoming effective without having to take over a game. So much of the National Team responsibility seems to fall to him. I enjoy watching him have a game where he picks his spots creates a little and takes his time with his decision making. I really think over the past year, from the Confed Cup to now, we have watched him mature as a player and he only now is settling into his prime. It must be a relief to him not to have the entire team on his shoulders for once.


  2. Posted by Dylan on 2010/02/20 at 3:08 PM

    Oh and I just saw the roster that BoB B. is taking with him to Florida. I cannot express how disappointed I am to not see Omar Gonzalez making the trip. Maybe I’m missing something but this kid should be getting his look. I think it is a very short sighted decision to have ruled him out for the backup centerback role in SA. But that is just one man’s opinion. You guys saw him down at the camp, your thoughts? Is he really that far behind Goodson and Marshall as far as skill and readiness for the international level?


  3. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/20 at 3:31 PM

    I would like to add that Donovan clearly has a footballing brain (I think it was a certain Johan Cruyff that said something like that 30+ years ago), and I think that he is benefiting by playing with people who are at the same level. Many times I have seen him play a stray pass in the MLS and people seem to get frustrated for losing possession. But IMO, most of these “stray” passes wouldn’t have been on the Everton team because the player would’ve carried on his run as Donovan expected.

    Regarding the fitness, well the EPL is notoriously a faster and more physical league and it takes players a while to adapt, so there’s no surprise there. I think Moyes, Arena and Bradley need to be more “Italian” with him, in so much he conserves his energy for maximum effect for the final third. I also think it was a certain Johan Cruyff that said something like if you sprint it means you haven’t read the game correctly and are mistiming your runs…


    • Johan Cruyff – “Every trainer talks about movement, about running a lot. I say don’t run so much. Football is a game you play with your brains. You have to be in the right place at the right moment, not too early, not too late.”

      It’s funny that you mentioned that quote because I just read it yesterday in “Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer”, by David Winner, a fantastic book if you’re interested in the Dutch system and soccer in general.


  4. Posted by smokedgouda on 2010/02/20 at 5:57 PM

    I think your analysis is right on the mark. Donovan is a playmaker, he has bursts of incredible speed, pinpoint passes and the ability to read a counterattack and defend. I am miffed that I didn’t see the ESPN2HD game today vs. ManU until 70 minutes! It’s great to see Landon succeed. Notice that you don’t see any more losers calling him “landycakes” anymore. Losers tend to shut up quickly when proven wrong.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/20 at 7:48 PM

      I wouldn’t say he’s proven anybody “wrong” in his short stay, in the same way the naysayers weren’t proved “right” during his two ‘unsuccessful’ spells in Germany. For me, the issue is consistency at the highest level, and a 10 week period is far too short to draw massive conclusions.

      However, I do like him as a player and he has done very well in most of his games.


    • I still refer to him as ‘Cakes from time to time. It’s just one of his aliases now. Doesn’t mean that I don’t support him any less.


  5. Posted by dallen on 2010/02/20 at 6:03 PM

    Kaka? Hmm…I don’t see it. I get what you’re saying about his decision making and his direct passing style, but Kaka is just too physical.

    To me, Landon is part Joe Cole and part Andrea Pirlo. Somewhere in between the two. Pacier than Pirlo with a worse shot both w/ dead balls and in the run of play (though Landon is no slouch) and a better passer and shooter than Cole.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/20 at 6:17 PM


      Agree Kaka is more physical….

      I don’t see either Cole or Pirlo…Cole is a little bit more lunch pail….I look at Joe Cole almost like Kevin Johnson who used to play for the Phoenix Suns…KJ wasn’t a great assist man, but he got a lot of assists as a product of driving through the lane and dishing…

      Donovan is a lot more….hmm…..Steve Nash?…a reluctant scorer who looks to involve teammates first.


  6. Posted by Skip on 2010/02/20 at 7:22 PM

    When I first started watching Donovan, with the Earthquakes in 2001, he had a knack for nicely weighted, on the ground passes. He makes it so easy for the recipient. He’s always had quickness and pace too. What’s gotten better are his crosses and dead ball strikes. I used to just shudder when he stepped up for a corner or free kick.

    As far as comparisons, I couldn’t help but think of Ryan Giggs today. Donovan is similar is size, speed and touch.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/20 at 9:26 PM

      Giggs — certainly more spot on…

      The impact that Donovan has though…very Kaka like too….


  7. Dylan’s observation was spot on re: Donovan. He’s contributing very well versus carrying a team. Hopefully this WC edition of the USMNT will reflect solid that international experience from the majority of the team. (BTW Dylan, I also agree that Omar should get another look.).

    I think the aspect of Kaka’s game that translates to Donovan’s is “economy” which sums up/agrees with the comparison made in the blog post. On the ball, it’s almost comforting that the correct decision will be made. In some cases he’s cleverly creating and in others he’s correctly switching the point of attack or at least ensuring possession. The Everton fans recognized the same obviously. GeorgeCross’s comment about stray balls in MLS that are now perfect in the EPL was well stated. Alan Gordon is not Luis Saha.

    Everton’s midfield right now suits him incredibly well and it’s a midfield that should continue Everton’s form. They can afford to run at teams all day with that midfield and sub in players that can maintain that intensity.

    Full disclosure, there is a Donovan SJ Earthquakes top somewhere in my closet. I’d like him to stay over there and for him to replace Jenas at Spurs :). Jenas has never stopped playing for Newcastle.


  8. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/20 at 8:01 PM

    I might be stating he bleeding obvious, and Moyes is not a magician, but he has allowed Donovan to play to his stregths individually and it complements Everton excellently. Somebody mentioned that too much burden was placed on Donovan offensively at LA. I agree. At Everton he is part of the offensive trio / quad.


  9. Posted by patrickhattrick on 2010/02/20 at 8:39 PM

    Wow. how awesome would it be if Donovan became a world-class(I mean the likes of Gerrard, Rooney, Torres, you know the drill) player. He is going to be awesome if he comes back to the MLS. (Yes, if.) I think that this i a win-win-lose situation. Everton wins, Donovan wins, LA loses.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/21 at 7:02 AM

      EPL wins and USA wins!

      LA have been shrewd too by making him sign a contract extention on the run up to the WC. We all know it’s bad business for the buying club purchasing a player after the tournament, either through inflated price or the player played out of his skin because he was in the shop window… But at least Everton have ‘sampled the product’ so the latter isn’t a risk.


  10. Posted by Dylan on 2010/02/21 at 9:17 AM

    While we are on comparisons……… I mentioned this a week or so ago and nobody responded, but I’m very curious if my observations are anywhere close to accurate. I have noticed a similarity in game between Jozy and Adebayor, I know everyone says Drogba, but I see more of Adebayor in him. Now, I am very new to the soccer community so I reserve the right to have no idea what I am talking about, however I’d like to know what you guys think, if they are similar and if not, why?


  11. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/21 at 10:34 AM

    I personally think it is too hard to compare Altidore to either Drogba or Adebayor – unless you have data on the latter two when they were starting out their careers in France. Altidore is still only 20 and has only played a handful of games in a Spain and England. I just don’t think he’s had enough playing time to warrant these comparisons.

    The other thing is that Drogba or Adebayor are part of much better teams and get a lot of chances, where Hull’s return on Altidore is 1 goal in 19 appearances isn’t fair.

    I feel that Adebayor is more of a target man than Drogba is, and I feel Drogba’s overall team play is much better (perhaps due to their team’s formation?). I feel that Drogba can finish moves off, but can also create something from nothing. Both have tremendous upper body strength and both are difficult to knock off the ball. That said, hopefully other TSG commenators who have watched a lot of Hull this season can fill in the gaps…


    • I wrote this responding to when you first mentioned it, but I didn’t know if you’d see it…. here’s the Cruyff quote you mentioned:

      Johan Cruyff – “Every trainer talks about movement, about running a lot. I say don’t run so much. Football is a game you play with your brains. You have to be in the right place at the right moment, not too early, not too late.”

      It’s funny that you mentioned that quote because I just read it yesterday in “Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer”, by David Winner, a fantastic book if you’re interested in the Dutch system and soccer in general.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/21 at 11:06 AM

        Dan. We are interested in a review of the book.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/21 at 11:08 AM

        FBM: thanks for the literature review, I’ll look out for it. Over the years, I have seen many quotes from Cruyff and Michels about their football philosophy. Very intelligent, especially as so much of it was dismissed then, yet people in the European game took on a lot earlier than their English counterparts. I really wish what the FA are doing now was in place 20 years ago!


        • @ George

          If you are looking for a book that lays it all out AND connects it to the larger Dutch world then check it out. Some of it is a bit of a stretch (connecting football and Dutch architecture), but overall an interesting look at the glory days of the “Total Football” system in the 70s and 80s and its continued impact on the modern game. Michels also features prominently in the book.. of course.


          I’m not quite done with the book, but I could put something together on it. Not just a beer bum, but a learned man as well, I am!


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/21 at 4:30 PM

          FBM – Told the wife I was “popping out to get milk” and bolted double quick to B&N to get the book. Guess what? I forgot said milk!


        • …and we all wish the USSF had an ounce of the nous that any of the European powers do at this point.

          To follow up the Jozy comparison thoughts, I’ve watched a few Hull City matches and the problem is that they play Route 1 football too often to make a good comparison of Jozy with any of the elite strikers. When Hull is in the mood to work it through the midfield Jozy has his moments where he looks like the next big thing (against the Man City defense especially), and he also has his moments that make Phil Brown throw his hands up and say WTF!? Put him on a side like Chelsea or Arsenal and he’d bag at least 10, but that may be only due to having so many more chances. Has he earned the right to play for a “Big 4″ club yet? No, but if he continues to develop I could see him on the books of a much bigger club in the next 3-5 years.


  12. Posted by JohnnyF on 2010/02/21 at 12:12 PM

    I’d like to clarify something about Landon’s stints in Germany. Yes, his time with Leverkusen was a failure. He had that terrible Champions League start and he later admitted he was homesick. Ridicule was earned and the “LandyCakes” nickname seemed fitting.

    But his time at Bayern Munich can hardly be called a disaster and lumped with the Leverkusen one as an outright failure. He performed well – but in the wrong situation

    He was a personal project of Klintsman and from press reports, Jurgen seemed the only one at the club who believed in Donovan. The club was filled with superstars who weren’t performing and Klintsman was under a lot of pressure to turn things around. This made Klintsman and Donovan easy targets since the supporters/management might’ve been looking for a bigger name (read: European) to come over during the winter break.

    But in five friendlies with Bayern, Donovan scored four goals and had a couple of assists. I think he came on as a sub in a few league matches and in the end was let go with Chairman Rummenigge stating a younger forward prospect made more sense.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/21 at 12:25 PM

      I am not being funny, but what’s the “since the supporters/management might’ve been looking for a bigger name (read: European) to come over during the winter break” all about? If Donovan didn’t do well, his nationality comes into it. I am of the thinking that a 10 week loan period is just that. And if you think about it, for a top top club, who is available in January who is going to improve their squad?

      I know this is a pro-US blog, and I am not anti-US, but come on. for all you know, the reason for his ‘failures’ could’ve been off the field cultural things.


      • Posted by JohnnyF on 2010/02/21 at 12:43 PM

        Fair enough but what you’re saying is really a footnote to my main point: that after Leverkusen, Donovan deserved some scorn, but at Bayern he performed as well as can be expected given the circumstances.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/21 at 4:38 PM

          I was actually commenting on your “read: European” statement, more than anything else! However, we can all agree that he is a very good player REGARDLESS of his nationality.


    • Posted by dallen on 2010/02/21 at 3:13 PM

      While I agree that Landon was clearly the victim of the rift between Klinssmann and the Bayern power trio of Ruminegge, Hoeness and Beckenbauer, he was also the victim of Klinssmann’s terrible tactics. There were times when Landon would come on and they’d be playing a 3-1-6 with the 6 up top running around with no clear direction. It was chaos.

      The comments Landon was treated to on the way out were typical Bayern arrogance and clearly completely wrong (the comments about how he wasn’t fit for the reserves) but in the interest of fairness, letting Landon go was the right decision. To buy him they would have had to shell out at least $10,000,000. Instead, they promoted Thomas Muller from the reserves to play that role of attacking midfielder who can play both wide, centrally or withdrawn off a central striker. That move looks like a stroke of genius considering the financial savings and Muller’s performance.

      Basically it was just a terrible fit and I think Landon was lured by the misplaced faith he had in Klinsy and excitement of playing for a truly legendary super club.


    • The few Bayern games I was able to watch when Donovan was over there was insanely frustrating. I haven’t done the appropriate leg work on height and build, but Toni plays a more target-type than ‘Cakes does. So it would behoove any player with half a brain to know how the players on their team play, and not play to someone’s weaknesses or complete inabilities. Every time I caught a Bayern game, he came on for Toni in about the 65th minute or so, and the midfielders kept pumping balls up to him as if he was the taller and more aerial Toni. While I would consider his time with the Bavarian giants a failure, I would not place the blame on his shoulders, but on those of the coaching staff and other players. If Robinho, Ribery, Messi, or Owen were coming off the bench wouldn’t you adjust your gameplan appropriately…


  13. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/21 at 4:46 PM

    Hey, does anybody have any scouting reports on DeMerit? Seems that such a probable starter in the WC isn’t getting much coverage…


    • Posted by JohnnyF on 2010/02/21 at 5:09 PM

      haven’t heard much about him since his return from eye surgery earlier this year. he’s an excellent tackler, very direct and physical. not much finesse. having said that was very effective versus the finesse of spain during confed cup with a man-of-match performance.

      by the way, if you don’t know his life story it’s quite something- a football vagabond playing on weekends in england to the premiership a few years later


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/21 at 5:36 PM

        JohnnyF – I know he doesn’t have any finesse – he plays for Watford FFS!! I think the closest thing Watford has to finesse was their relationship to Reginald Dwight…

        I was more wondering about his current form.


        • Posted by JohnnyF on 2010/02/21 at 5:43 PM

          no idea who reginald dwight is. watford’s own ice dancing champion?

          curious about his recent form as well-


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/21 at 6:07 PM

          Reginald Dwight is better known as Sir Elton John – Watford’s chairman in the 1980s!


    • Not really sure about his current form, but when Watford were in the Prem, he held his own (as much as one can on a team destined for relegation) against some of the league’s best.

      His potential inclusion in the WC brings to light something I noticed with the Bocanegra-Onyewu pairing of the 2007-2008 vintage, we don’t have (maybe a lot of international teams don’t either) a good central back complimentary combination; one is the ball winner and bruiser, the other is the calming influence and passer out of the back. I’m thinking of Rio and John Terry for England when both are/were in their prime form. Instead of Steak and Potatoes we end up with two servings of Potatoes, granted every once in a while there’s some gravy thrown in, but in the end it’s still just potatoes. All of our centerbacks are hard-working, hard-nosed individuals and at the moment I wouldn’t want anyone other than Demerit and Onyewu patrolling the backline, but just wondering if we’ll see the day when our centerbacks will be more complimentary for each other and the team.


  14. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/21 at 6:04 PM


    Welcome to TSG…this is Matthew….

    On Jay DeMerit…we partcipate on some Watford message boards and we’re awaiting feedback on his form.

    Additionally–everyone–we’ll be building out our World Cup 2010 section with player pages for each player and we’ll get as much content up there as possible.

    From what I’ve read only since he’s been back, he’s been playing really well and I know the backline has given up less goals…but that’s all I know…


  15. Posted by Kj on 2010/02/22 at 12:44 AM

    I know I would be watching the Saturday matches if they weren’t at 5 A.M. PST. I’m lucky if I catch the last 10 mins of a match. A tape delay would actually be nice, for once.


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