• The Sports Illustrated World Cup preview edition included a well-crafted profile of Landon Donovan and his odyssey of carrying the burden for the U.S. soccer team. While it was a bit rich to include the genius references to Mozart, Picasso, etc., Joe Posnanski cut to the heart of Donovan’s dilemma, which is rooted in his early crashing out in Europe.
In light of what he’s done at the World Cup, and the role he’s expected to play as the Americans face Ghana Saturday in the second round, this piece is especially illuminating now. Donovan found his emotional and psychological breakthrough earlier this winter, while playing for Everton in England’s Premier League on a short loan stint:
“It isn’t because he proved himself on such a stage. It isn’t because, at 28, he established himself unquestionably as a world-class player. It isn’t because he doused the final doubts about himself.
” ‘No, here’s the thing,’ Donovan says. ‘I proved something to myself. I proved to myself that I could play at a high level game after game. I couldn’t do that before. I always needed something outside myself. I used to be on the field and think, ‘Maybe I’ll hear a song that will remind me of my family or where I came from or my wife. Maybe the crowd will get really loud, and that will lift me up.’ I realized I don’t need that.’ “
• The Americans won a group stage for the first time since the first World Cup in 1930, but Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wonders if the bar is being set too low for American expectations now. Ghana is 18 places below the U.S. in the current FIFA rankings, but Plaschke should know that FIFA rankings never amount to much. Still, it’s hard to fault this thought:
“I suspect that one reason U.S. soccer does not become a superpower is because, as fans, we don’t demand it. We don’t pressure a losing coach like a Southeastern Conference football crowd. We don’t push a struggling player like a New York baseball crowd. We blister an NBA coach for ripping a referee, yet we allow soccer players to fire away.
“We give soccer excuses it doesn’t need, then shower it with praise for a job it hasn’t finished. We treat American soccer like a precocious prodigy instead of a burgeoning powerhouse. The youth soccer movement in this country is at least 30 years old, Major League Soccer is 15 years old — isn’t it time for everyone to grow up?
• Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel has a terrific piece on U.S. coach Bob Bradley, who’s heard plenty of calls for his head since succeeding Bruce Arena after the 2006 World Cup. Bradley wasn’t the first choice to lead the Americans into South Africa, but he’s certainly looking like the best choice regardless of what happens Saturday.
• Congrats go out to a friend of mine, New York Daily News soccer correspondent Michael Lewis, who’s been in the business for 36 years, most of it covering the game he loves the most. And a conscientious, down-to-earth guy to boot.
• During a very busy week, I didn’t get a chance to watch any of the epic Wimbledon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. But reading just a bit of a live blog on the match at The Guardian was exhausting enough. The folks at the All-England Club need to seriously think about putting some limits on how fifth sets should be settled. Stoppage time, perhaps?
• One more clip of Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria, a classic radio call by Andrés Cantor. Save your voice, my friend!