Monday, September 18, 2006

What's Wrong with Landon Donovan?

With the beginning of the semester, and even more astonishing behavior and speech from our President (Robert has a great take on W almost fighting - or fixin' to fight, as he would say - with Matt Lauer) I was once again knocked off of my blogging stride.

But this morning, I read this article about Landon Donovan, star of the U.S. National team and the L.A. Galaxy, who is widely recognized as the best soccer player in our country. Yet, for all of his gifts, Landon has not been all that effective this year for the Galaxy and he had a disastrous World Cup.

I understand that anyone, even the best, can have a good game, and some can even have a bad season. But Landon seems really unperturbed by his and his teams failures. He's not the annoying in the typical way of an American athlete - "I got my 20 and I got my check, so who cares" - it seems to run deeper.

Landon's malaise has been a frequent topic on soccer blogs, websites and discussion boards, so today, upon reading the article, and many, many others, I have decided to add to the literature by making these observations about Landon:

1. He doesn't want his life to be all about soccer
2. He doesn't want to be The Man
3. He really does need to have certain people around him and certain circumstances to feel OK

In response, I'd say:

1. It's probably good for Landon that his life isn't only about soccer, but what he is doing is entirely different than someone who is pro athlete or musician who quietly volunteers doing something that tangibly helps people. Hanging out in Manhattan Beach with you M.A.W. (Model-Actress-Whatever) girlfriend and listening to Air Supply or REO Speedwagon on your iPod do not count. Look, without soccer. Landon would be a sixth year student in business administration at CSU San Bernardino working part time at a Cingular Wireless store. I have no doubts that Landon has worked hard on his game, but I think the highly gifted have a responsibility to serve their gifts rather being served by them. Landon does not seem to understand this.

2. Landon was great at the 2002 World Cup because it wasn't his team. This summer, it was his team, and he seemed paralyzed by the role. I really don't think he wants to be the guy who makes a team go. When he returned to Germany to play in 2005, his team expected him to be that - they're not going to have a big money foreigner, and especially an American, being a role player. At Beyer Leverkeusen, his German club, it was be The Man or get out, and so now he's back. He needs to be a role player to be successful, but right now the Galaxy need him to be the star, and this is why, in large part, the G's may miss the MLS playoffs for the first time in the league's history.

3. To make this point, I must play amateur psychologist for a minute. Landon's parents got divorced when he was at a particularly vulnerable age. I know that some kids sail through their parents' divorce, but that is usually because they have a higher than normal level of psychological resilience. Landon, on the other hand, seems to have come up short just at the time he needed it the most. Ever since this time, he has really needed his situation to be right to feel OK. A more resilient person facing a challenge would take the bull by the horns and make his situation right, or realize that sometime you just gotta deal regardless of how you feel, but Landon does not seem to have it in him to be like that. I think the divorce combined with an unresilient temperament has given us the guy we see today, and it's not going to change. I don't think this is a matter of courage, as many have suggested. We're all broken people, all of us have weaknesses, and his is (or may be) a lack of resilience. This is no worse than having a phobia like fear of heights, but the difference here, and it's an important one, is that Landon has not yet figured out that he ought not to talk about his lack of resilience as if it's a good thing.

So for the sake of the Galaxy and the National Team, I hope Landon can find some way past this

1 comment:

quakerdave said...

Landon needs to step up. I am very tired of his whining, of his moping on and off the field, of his long face. get over yourself, young man. He was a total non-factor in this last World Cup, and is now a mediocre international at best. He had a shot to play in Europe - what all the best Americans should be doing right now - and couldn't handle it. So he comes home to play in a very mediocre league, where he can be a "star." And now he can't even do that.

If he doesn't want the pressure, fine. Stop doing endorsements, Landon, stop trying to be the pretty boy face of US Soccer. Otherwise, step up. Now.

(Just found you: great blog.)