Sunday, September 19, 2010

Still The Best

I'll be honest. I've been as guilty as anyone else; promoting the MVP credentials of players like Fredy Montero (10 goals, 9 assists), Sebastien Le Toux (11 goals, 10 assists), and even guys like Javi Morales who don't stuff the stat sheet but make a HUGE difference for their team.

The fact of the matter though is that no player in MLS is better or more important to his team than Landon Donovan. If you have any real doubt as to why, just go watch the last 10 minutes of the most recent game against DC United.  Down 1-nil in the 80th minute and facing an extremely embarrassing loss at home to the worst team in the league, Donovan refused to let his team lose. First, single-handedly taking the ball away from the DC defense, rounding the keeper and slotting one home for the tie. And then executing a beautiful header after making an unmarked run to give LA the 2-1 victory.

While he has always been a top goal scoring threat despite his midfield position, averaging nearly a goal every other game, this year he has taken it upon himself to also become the best distributor in Major League Soccer. Through only 19 games he has a career high 14 assists, and continues to terrorize MLS defenses with his deft passing.

The only thing that has seemed to slow Donovan down this year has been Bruce Arena moving him around the field. Yeah, he's the best player on the pitch any time he suits up in MLS and he can have an impact from any midfield position or as a withdrawn striker. But he's at his best on the right wing, as we saw early this year during his loan at Everton and again with the USMNT in South Africa.

If you go back and look at the start of the season, when LA was nearly unbeatable, you'll see Donovan spending most of his time on the right flank with rookie Michael Stephens lining up on the left. However, over the past couple months you started to see him drift around the field, lining up on the left side or as an attacking mid. Now in the past few games you've seen Landon moved back to the right side with Alex Cazumba taking over on the left and LA has started to look as dangerous as they did early in the year.

Playing Landon on the right wing allows him to pressure defenses with his speed, distribute the ball into the box with his great crosses, and hold back opposing teams' full backs from pressing forward on the attack for fear that Landon will get behind them. Also, his presence on the wing and status as one of the fittest players in the league allows the LA right backs to push forward into attack knowing that they have a player like Donovan to cover who is always ready, willing, and able to sprint back on defense and help stop the counter attack.

It's human nature to try and find something first. We all want to identify who will be the next dominant player in MLS or who is going to be the big star that moves abroad. But we need to be honest with ourselves. This is Landon's league, the rest of us are just along for the ride.

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