Tag Archives: Landon Donovan

Street or Suburb? Who wins?

11 Sep

US soccer will never be #1; it doesn’t have a street game. Isn’t that what they say? No shoeless street urchins knocking around a ball made from socks as raw sewage flows across the scrap landed penalty box. Look at England, the first world version of this fantasy, and hail the working class soccer legend. His old dad kicked the ball with him after a shift at the factory; they spent years bonding on the crumbling stadium terracing flowing with discharged piss from lager bladders and mouths. And how junior didn’t need to bother with all that boring math and geometry at school. He could run diagonals and create linear equations on a soccer field – poor + soccer = legend of the game. We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control. Ball control speaks louder than any college, mate.

So, here come the Americans. Playing on the grass carpets of soccer suburbia, as beautifully manicured as their soccer mom’s nails. It’s a safe game, soccer, no need for helmets and hurt, no need for the threatening newspeak of hoops, no danger of being around too many bad boys. And do your homework! We want that scholarship to college for our juniors, where the blackboard teaches not just Humanities but how to play soccer.

Listen to the coach, play the paradigm, be a good sport. It’s all about fun, love of the game – viciousness unknown, cheating despised, bullying, hacking, stealing are out – no thanks, that is not for us. That’s not soccer. That’s not how we play in America. We play fair.

So what! Is that last paragraph even mildly accurate? Most likely not but some commentators think it is. Let’s assume some of it credible for the sake of a few more strokes. What has this pleasant model produced? You could say, US internationalist Landon Donovan – smart, educated, a guy who advocates reading as a pastime, a cultured man with an ability to string together sentences like he strings together goals. Did he grow up playing on the dangerous street of the underclass? Certainly not. Boy of the suburb. Is he as good a player as any once disadvantaged street-smart soccer peer? He certainly is.

So do we need the soccer street to succeed at the world’s game? Consider this. What are we good at in America? We’re good at TV, and very good at the unreality of reality TV. Calling all producers. Here’s the script. It’s in the copyright vault. Get in touch if you wish to buy it.

We build a slum with a scrap of land with previously mentioned raw sewage flowing across the penalty box. We find some young soccer prodigies and deprive them of vegetables, feeding them survivalist soccer every day as they battle hardships of poverty and villainy, learning to fight like the street demands every time they chase down the ball.

There are no coaching mentors. No showers, no soft down pillows, no cleats – barefoot makes better players – and after a summer of reality TV poverty, bus them to the well heeled suburbs to play against the top kids in uniforms, fresh and clean and smelling of roses.

Who will win? Street or suburb?

Alan Black is the soccer columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.



Landon Calling

7 Jul

Last week, I caught up with all-time leading USA goal scorer, Landon Donovan – a short profile and some thoughts on how American soccer should pursue its own style and method.

Landon Donovan was in the Bay Area last Saturday scoring for Los Angeles Galaxy in his team’s 4-3 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes before a sell-out crowd at Stanford. Is he the best US player of his generation? Cue the stats – all-time leading scorer for the national team with forty-nine goals, the leader in assists, a career spanning over a decade with one hundred and forty three appearances for the country. He is the public face of American soccer internationally. And he’s earned respect by demonstrating purpose and leading by example.

Now a veteran, he offers advice to the next generation of US soccer players. “As a young player you can tend to get caught up in one good game or one bad game, one good moment or one bad moment or one good team or one bad team. If you are in it for the long haul, there are lots of ups and downs,” he said last week when I caught up with him by phone. “The players I have most respect for are those who play year after year and have been very consistent and that is the hardest thing to do.”

Soccer’s rigors are intense. A few years ago, I watched Donovan train in Los Angeles. He was tireless, outpacing his teammates in challenges, firing shots at the goalie with an intensity equal to the force expected during a match. How does he prepare mentally for games?

“I do different sorts of, I guess you’d call it, meditation,” he says. “At this point in my career, I have played quite a few games. So it is not that I am going to come to a match and have some kind of realization. I do think about the specific opponent that I am dealing with and I try to be positive with myself and envision doing positive things in the game.” Strike that as a California attitude.

Donovan’s colors rose on scoring key goals for the USA. His strikes in the 2002 World Cup run to the quarterfinals helped bounce interest in the domestic game at a time when there were doubts to its survivability. And his famous last minute winning goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup unleashed a wave of patriotism that carried soccer’s message to all stars in the Union – this foreign game has an American stamp.

Last Saturday’s match at Stanford was a thrill beyond the norm. Ninety minutes of rollercoaster game action, a noisy spectacle bookended by a salute to the armed forces and fireworks celebrating the Fourth of July. Look at the contrasting styles between this match and the prize games of the recently concluded Euro 2012. At Stanford, we enjoyed an adventurous game of openness and space, goal loaded and wild. At Euro 2012, a taxing economy of European soccer obsessed with possession and control. For sure, the better odds of victory in international match ups lie with technically superior teams with powerful club traditions. But emerging US soccer has its own flavor and should not be afraid to develop its own methods. Flying down the field and heading for goal is the portrait Landon Donovan can hang in the soccer Hall of Fame. Call it the American game – willing and ready to bang.

Landon Donovan – mas gringo

14 Jan

Landon Donovan, the US soccer ace, has set fire to Mexican public opinion. He appears in a TV ad for a Mexican lottery dressed in the costume of hyper-Mexican stereotyping – the large sombrero, the big mustache and the poncho. He attempts to sneak across the border, into Mexico, under the nose of a dozing Mexican border guard. Many in Mexico are offended. And it has come from the American they love to hate.

Donovan has stuck the boot in to Mexico before. Reportedly, he urinated on a Mexican soccer field after a game between the countries, and referred to Mexicans being jealous of Americans because America had everything and Mexico had nothing. In soccer terms, it follows in the tradition of glorious insult. Ronald Koeman, a Dutch player, simulated using a German opponent’s shirt to wipe his butt, after the German had swapped shirts with him at the end of a game. His potty act was prompted by the collective Dutch grievance towards Germany as a result of Nazi occupation during World War 2. Argentine legend Diego Maradona insulted Brazilian great Pele by claiming Pele had lost his virginity to a man, after the Brazilian had questioned Maradona as a role model for children. Diego liked cocaine and partying as much as he liked being the best soccer player in the world.

Those of us who saw Mexico play the USA in a World Cup qualifying game last year witnessed Donovan taking a corner kick under riot cop shields, as a hail of bottles, cans and urine bombs crashed down. According to reports, the USA dugout was shelled with trash and rocks throughout the match. Mexico and the USA are in a bitter soccer war. It could be argued Donovan’s aggression marks the arrival of US soccer on the world stage. Rivalry and grudge are very much part of a mature soccer tradition. No longer willing to submit to the mockery of the more established soccer powers, US players are giving as good as they get, getting stuck in, and US fans at games are no longer silent lambs waiting for slaughter.

Some commentators in Mexico have asserted that Donovan’s costume in the ad is so over the top it merits ridicule, and therefore is comic, and not insulting. This is the spirit of play.

Here’s the ad, make up your own mind.

Alan Black is the co-author of The Glorious World Cup due for publication in May 2010 (NAL/Penguin Books) www.thegloriousworldcup.com