I am one of Landon Donovan’s biggest fans. You all know that. He is a guy with the rare blend of athletic excellence, human decency and humility. So the headline, above, is not mocking. It is literal.
I plan to see Landon soon because he will not be staying with the famous German club team Bayern Munich. Or the odds seem about 100-to-1 against.
Bayern played Sporting Lisboa in the Champions League last night and won 5-0. You see that score and think, “Man, Landon had a great chance to have scored his first non-friendly (unfriendly?) goal for Bayern. In a match that counted for something.”
But no. Not only did he not score … he didn’t play.
Not only did he not play, he wasn’t even on the bench.
And not only was he not on the bench, the towering Italian national, Luca Toni, did play (he allegedly was hurt, in theory opening the door for Landon to get one more crack at scoring for Bayern) … and scored. Twice.
It was the Perfect Storm of Worst Case Scenarios for our guy, Landon.
Bayern plays Werder Bremen on Sunday, but it’s now fair to wonder whether the club has made up its mind on Landon and won’t give him a chance, barring injuries.
To recap (and, hey, this item already is getting long!), Landon has been intimately involved with some unfortunate Bayern results, the past month, and pretty much disconnected from its happy results. And, of course, it wasn’t about one guy killing or saving his team, but that’s how soccer coaches think. “You scored, we won; you didn’t score, we lost.” And there goes a guy’s playing time — up or down.
Jan. 27: Bayern routs Stuttgart 5-1. Landon doesn’t score, doesn’t start, and comes on in the 67th minute for Luca Toni, who did score. Stuttgart gets its only goal with Landon on the field, and Bayern already had its five when he stepped onto the pitch.
Jan. 30: Bayern loses 1-0 at Hamburg in a Bundesliga match. Landon comes on in the 77th minute, replacing Bastian Schweinsteiger as coach Juergen Klinsmann throws another forward onto the field, to no avail. “Landon didn’t rescue us.” It wasn’t a quote in a story but, again, that’s how soccer executives think.
Feb. 8: Bayern defeats Borussia Dortmund 3-1 to close in on the Bundesliga lead. Landon comes on for Toni in the 72nd minute of a 1-1 tie. Miroslav Klose scores twice in the final minutes for Bayern. Too bad one of those goals couldn’t have been Landon’s. At least he was on the field when the good things happened. But when is he going to score?
Feb. 14: Bayern suffers a damaging defeat on the road against Hertha Berlin, 2-1, missing a chance to move atop the Bundesliga for the first time this season. Perhaps the single most damaging match for Landon. He got into the game in the 35th minute when Toni suffered an ankle injury with Hertha leading 1-0. Landon had a chance to score in the 54th minute, but Hertha keeper Jaroslav Drobny made what was called an “excellent save.” And then, as the espn.com account describes it, “Donovan missed a golden opportunity to put Bayern ahead with 20 minutes remaining when he was sent through with only Drobny to beat, but the Hertha goalkeeper won the duel, making a save with his foot.” Ack. Double ack. Can’t you envision it? Landon making one of those bursts, running onto a ball and going in alone on the keeper … the move that nearly always means a goal … except this time it doesn’t. Not to be too dramatic, but this could have been a turning point in Landon’s European prospects, and not in a good way.
Feb. 21: Cologne 2, Bayern 1, in Munich. A fairly disastrous defeat to a club in the middle of the standings. And Landon played the entire second half, coming on for Lukas Podolski. Not only didn’t Landon score, his only mention in the game account I saw was for clearing a ball off the goal line. That is, playing defense, which is nice, but not what Bayern has him in town to do. And he is one of the 11 on the pitch when that really ugly defeat goes into the books.
Feb. 25: The 5-0 Champions League blowout of Sporting, in Lisbon, and Landon isn’t even suited up.
Anyway, the days are dwindling now, for Landon, who is due to rejoin the Galaxy in mid-March, and almost certainly will unless he 1) gets another chance or two to play (at Bremen on Sunday, or at Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday or at home against Hannover on March 7 or in the home half of the Sporting Lisboa duel, March 10) and 2) scores a goal. Preferably two.
Maybe he gets one more chance? Maybe? And if he takes advantage, then the club talks to the Galaxy/Major League Soccer about keeping him, and they see if they can agree on a price, and that could be a stumbling block, too …
So, yeah. I excpct to see the little guy from Redlands at the Home Depot Center in a few weeks. Good for the Galaxy, good for Major League Soccer, not so good for Landon Donovan.