Posts tagged USA
Landon Donovan's Indoor Soccer Debut with San Diego Sockers

Author:
Jeff Carlisle

U.S. soccer correspondent

Landon Donovan, left, battles with Cory Keitz of the Tacoma Stars. Robert Beck for ESPN

Landon Donovan, left, battles with Cory Keitz of the Tacoma Stars. Robert Beck for ESPN


SAN DIEGO -- The play was vintage Landon Donovan. A right-footed pass took three defenders and the goalkeeper out of the play, allowing a teammate to score at the far post. The crowd roared, his teammates celebrated.

At which point, one could not help but notice the surroundings. The venue was not Dignity Health Sports Park, the renamed home of Donovan's beloved LA Galaxy. Nor was it any of the World Cup venues he has graced over the years. Rather, it was the 62-year-old Pechanga Arena -- formerly the San Diego Sports Arena -- a venue that, to put it kindly, is somewhat lacking in charm.

Donovan talks strategy with his new teammates. Robert Beck for ESPN

Donovan talks strategy with his new teammates. Robert Beck for ESPN

He had a couple of good early chances that were saved, but by the end, with a couple of fresh turf burns on his legs, he seemed content to provide cover defensively as fatigue set in.

"I got tired in the end, just like mentally," he told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview. "It's one thing to physically push through it, but mentally you get tired because there's so much going on. Even when you're on the bench there's so much going on that you have to stay tuned to, and I'm not mentally fit in that way. I haven't done this in a year. That piece of it is mentally tiring. I'm sure when I have time to go back and watch, I can learn from it, and it will be easier next time.

Donovan greets young fans after warm-ups. Robert Beck for ESPN

Donovan greets young fans after warm-ups. Robert Beck for ESPN

"I tried to make an impact in some ways. I tried to do a good job defensively and help out. That's not going to show up on a score sheet, but do things and try to help your team win. That's ingrained in me, that's something I'm proud of. I'd give myself a B on the night, and hopefully we get in the A's soon."

None of this was a surprise to Sockers head coach Phil Salvagio, a longtime veteran of the indoor game. He noted that it took Donovan two weeks before he scored a goal in practice, just two days before Friday's match, before adding that the U.S. soccer legend got his second a few minutes later.

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"It's the indoor game," Salvagio said. "You think you're going to get a lot of touches. You know what? You saw a little bit that [Donovan] wasn't in the right spots at times. He's going to get it. He had a couple great opportunities on free kicks and power plays. It will come to him.

"Indoor, it takes a normal player about 40 games to get used to it and really know what is going on. There's a lot of strategy, you're changing in [shifts], how to change, when to change, all that is new. Who to mark up, when to mark up. And it's fast. It's end-to-end. If you make a mistake, the other team has a shot on goal."

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The broader question centers on a familiar refrain concerning un-retirements: Why? Donovan does not need the money, although the $250,000 he will make between now and the end of the season in April, which is about five times what the next highest-paid player in the league earns, will not hurt.

Off the pitch, Donovan has certainly been busy. He has done broadcasting work and been involved in a bid to bring an MLS franchise to his new home city of San Diego; disappointment lingers that a ballot initiative to build a new stadium was defeated in favor of a competing stadium proposal.

"But I just felt sad for the soccer community [after Soccer City]. And then I came to realize, we have a great club here, a great franchise here. It's not what people expect when they think of soccer, but this is an entertaining, fun game. It's really fun for fans to come and check out. I think having the ability to stay involved is fun for me. And my family gets to come."

Taking in a Sockers game opens a window into a world not often seen, where grinding to grow the game by doing the jobs of two or three people is the norm. Salvagio is the team's former goalkeeper and owns a gym on the side, and the players are no less devoted, despite a total payroll of under $200,000, not counting Donovan.

On the roster, there is a considerable contingent from Mexico, many of whom will return to their home country at the end of the season, as well as several soccer lifers. Leading scorer Kraig Chiles, who spent a year playing for Chivas USA in 2008, doubles as director of coaching for area club Cardiff Mustangs, whose staff also includes Sockers Brian Farber, Eddie Velez, and Chad Haggerty.

San Diego had the best record in the league without Donovan, but outwardly there is no jealousy about his presence or paycheck, due to his professionalism and ability: "It's been exciting. There's been a boost of morale. A shot of energy across the team and the league in general," Chiles said.

"[Donovan's] just another guy on the team," forward Brian Farber said. "There's nothing crazy. The vibe is we want him to fit in; he's fitting in. Just try to make him feel normal. But at the same we know what this is, who he is and what he is. We're not dumb, we're not blind. We love the fact that he's signed here with us."

In the Sockers locker room before kickoff, Donovan is as engaged as anyone, studying Salvagio's tactical plan on the whiteboard, asking questions and conversing with Chiles and goalkeeper Boris Pardo about the team's approach.

A four-goal flurry in the second period -- including a Donovan-assisted goal on a power play to Brandon Escoto -- stakes the Sockers to a 5-1 halftime lead. A Tacoma comeback in the second half falls short, which means San Diego extends its winning streak to 11 games and remains comfortably on top of the MASL's Pacific Division.

Even if Donovan did not play his best on this night and notwithstanding his undoubted financial rewards, there is something endearing about this particular un-retirement. In most instances, a player returns because he or she missed the bright lights and buzz of playing at the highest level.

While that might have been true for some of Donovan's past comebacks, this one feels different and not just because the indoor game is several levels below where he played earlier in his career. This one feels as if it has more giving than taking and is driven by a desire to grow the game.

"There are so many little pockets of the country that love soccer and don't have the opportunity to have an MLS team, or even a USL team," Donovan said. "Now, with the rise of soccer, there are USL 2 teams, there are PDL teams, NPSL teams, teams that matter in communities. For fans, that's their pro team. It's awesome to be able to give that to this community. It's awesome -- and it's not all because of me -- to put 8,000 people in the stands to give these guys the opportunity to play in front of that. They never get that. All of that I think helps soccer get better."

When asked if he thinks he will continue playing after this year, Donovan laughs.

"Haven't you learned you don't know what the [heck] is going to happen with me?" he says. "We'll see how it goes. I'm excited about it. If I keep feeling good about it, and they want me around, we'll see. It's another cool experience."

Time to clean house: World Cup failure demands huge changes at U.S. Soccer
usmt walking

Change president. Change coach. Change how players are developed. Everything should be on the table after the USMNT's failure in Trinidad.

by Paul Tenorio

The change cannot wait.

It can’t begin after a time of reflection. It can’t take place after an academic evaluation of what went wrong. The change has to start now, and it has to begin at the top.

The U.S. men’s national team will miss the World Cup for the first time since 1986. After playing in seven consecutive tournaments, the U.S. went to last-place Trinidad and Tobago in need of only a draw to secure its place in the World Cup. With everything on the line, the team looked listless, slow and lackadaisical. The result was a deserved 2-1 loss and a stunning smack in the face when Panama found a late-winner to knock the Americans out of next summer’s tournament.

It is the most embarrassing day in U.S. Soccer history, and perhaps one of the most damaging.

"This game was perfectly positioned for the U.S. team and we failed on the day,” Arena told reporters after the game. “We have no excuses. We failed today."

Arena said to make crazy changes would be foolish. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati struck a similar tone in some of his comments to reporters.

“You don’t make wholesale changes on a ball being two inches wide or two inches in,” he said, according to ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle. “We’ll look at everything.”

That comment minimizes the failure, as if it was caused by one play, or even just one game. It wasn’t a failure on the day. In an era in which the sport is growing at a rapid rate in this country, the U.S. will not be a part of the sport’s biggest stage.

This is not a result that stands on its own. It traces back to the beginning of qualification under Jurgen Klinsmann. It transitions to the second Bruce Arena tenure. It carries over both because the players never changed and the results never improved. This falls on two coaches and a group of players who should have been better. And ultimately, it falls on Gulati.

The president of U.S. Soccer runs an organization whose most visible products are the senior national teams. To miss the World Cup is the most epic failure of all. Gulati must now consider resigning his position ahead of an upcoming election. After a failure this massive, the organization that runs the sport in this country needs new leadership.

This shouldn’t even be considered a controversial statement. If this was Argentina or England, Germany or France, the resignation letter would come in the hours after the result. The U.S. is not yet a footballing nation. Tuesday night proved that. But if it wants to move the sport forward, it needs to start holding leadership accountable as though it is.

“If we don’t change it, everyone in U.S. soccer, what are we doing,” ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman said in the minutes after the loss. “What’s the point?”

Tim Howard sounded the same notes after the game.

“Every time you have a setback you have to look at things, re-evaluate and get better,” Howard said to reporters in the minutes after the devastating loss. “This program, we have to get better. This Hex proved that.”

There is a sort of overconfidence that exists around U.S. soccer – capitalized S or not. It’s a sureness that permeates throughout the whole of the game in this country, where despite massive problems from youth development through the pro game, there is a belief that things are headed in the right direction.

In some ways, they are. The game is growing at a rapid rate. Major League Soccer has accelerated in its maturation over the past decade. Academies and USL have given the U.S. a development path that literally did not exist 10 years ago.

And yet, major problems remain. Players slip through the cracks. The pro league is not among the best in the world. The academies do not yet have a consistent enough level of competition for the very best teams.

And there should be real questions about whether enough introspection has occurred at every level. It will begin now. It must.

When I wrote a piece last week about what it would mean if the U.S. lost a World Cup, former New York Red Bulls general manager Ali Curtis talked about the sort of deep evaluation that can take place when you hit rock bottom. Winning can mask issues, he said. It can cause a certain level of dismissiveness or for leaders to turn a blind eye. It’s like a home owner ignoring the to-do list and failing to patch up a hole in the wall until he puts the house on the market.

Except there is more than one hole in this house, and U.S. Soccer has reached the point where it can’t ignore those “little” problems anymore.

“It would force everyone to really reevaluate in an academic way what has been happening with soccer in this country in a different way than if they qualify,” Curtis said last week.

The job should start on the youth fields. The under-15 and under-16 kids will be the ones on the U.S. team when this country likely hosts the World Cup again in 2026. U.S. Soccer must find a way to reach them now and to develop them better than it has in every cycle to this point. It must find a way to improve the national team programs in the long term, not the short. Forget about a coaching hire and firing Bruce Arena. The person roaming the sideline won’t help soothe anything until 2022. That’s a long way away.

The work has to start right away. The transformation has to start right away. On a night when this country had its most historic failure in this sport’s history, it has to be the start of epic change.