Tag Archives: US football

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.

Money Makes the Ball Go Round

11 Jun

You play professional in one of the big three sports. Your real estate footprint is large and your fancy car is marvelous. Valet park every time. Your plate is the most expensive on the menu. When you get old and tottery it is unlikely you’ll be wandering around penniless on city streets. Investments will soften your end. And you earned it. Talent pushed you from the humble class to the wealthy one. Sports can do that. But if you play professional soccer in America, you may still eat at Sizzler and drive home to your modest apartment in a 2001 Honda. Don’t think too much about getting old.

Major League Soccer’s player salaries were published recently. Some earn less than forty grand a year. The median wage is about eight-five thousand. Six years ago, it was fifty thousand. Not a bad improvement considering incomes for US households have fallen seven per cent over the last decade. But when you compare it to the big three American sports, choosing a career in soccer pales by comparison – hoops can pay you about five million, three million for hardball and a couple of mill at the Grid Iron.

MLS teams play to a median of about three million dollars in total wages. In the English Premier League it hits nearly sixty million. This explains why most of America’s top talent plays overseas. LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan is the exception, arguably the best US player of his generation. Praise him for investing much of his career on the home front. Not too long ago, he was earning peanuts compared to the two million plus he pulls now. He can thank David Beckham.

Beckham arrived in MLS in 2007 and immediately liked the drive-thru at In-n-Out Burger. But he wasn’t willing to pull up in a 2001 Honda for his fix. His nickname was Goldenballs. He didn’t work for a few hundred grand unless it was by the week. MLS needed his brand if interest in the league were to grow. So they enacted the Beckham Rule – teams could now sign a couple of top drawer players and pay them salaries that would set them apart from the rest of their teammates. Class on the field met economic class in the locker room.

Back then, San Jose striker Alan Gordon played for the Galaxy. A second job as a youth team coach supplemented his thirty thousand a year income. Roommates were necessary. Job security was dependent on him banging in goals. Today, playing for the Quakes, he pulls in over one hundred grand. Comfortable but soccer players retire when they hit the mid-thirties. And what do you do then when all you know is the ball?

Zach Slaton, a contributor to Forbes, analyses soccer by the numbers. He believes MLS is moving in the right direction. “As with any rapidly expanding business (approximately fifty per cent increase in number of teams and a nearly seventy-one per cent increase in number of players since 2007), MLS has had to manage sustainable growth in player wages to keep the quality of play high and the cost of operating the league low,” he says, and with the median salary rising, “all of this means a family can at the least dream of seeing their young soccer-playing son making an upper-middle class income if he were to sign an MLS contract…most importantly, the family won’t be fearful of their child falling into the trappings of celebrity associated with other major US sports in pursuit of such a dream.” Soccer – the humble game of the middle class.