The Battle for Donovan’s SoulBy: DAS | August 25th, 2011
Remember Chinatown? It is a great movie about water rights, land development, and conspiracy, starring a young Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. There is an iconic, incest revealing scene in which Nicholson is trying to determine Dunaway’s relationship to this girl. He keeps slapping her and with each slap she switches from “my sister” to “my daughter.” I probably saw it 20 years ago and it still sticks with me today. These days, it makes me think of Landon Donovan. Well, not the incest part. Just the duality of the role.
A year ago, when I was merely a reader and commenter on this blog, I argued strongly against the Galaxy playing Donovan as a midfielder. I felt his absence up front diminished the team, leaving them less potent in the attack. I accepted Donovan’s own claim that he is not a true striker. But he remained enough of a scoring threat that he could either put it in the net or draw a couple of defenders away to allow someone else to finish. I mean, we are talking about the top scoring American player in national team history, right?
But I’ve noticed something this season. While Donovan is still a potent attacker, he really isn’t a true striker. When he plays up front he remains a threat, but not really of the Keane or even Angel variety. Yet when he plays in the midfield he brings something even more rare to an MLS pitch: control. Donovan is one of the few players in the league who has the ability to slow things down or hit the afterburners seemingly on a dime. He can hold when they need to build and burn when they need to pressure. It seems to me that when Donovan plays in the middle, the team overall is more composed and more lethal. When he plays up front, they have a good attacking option but don’t quite seem as skilled in building up to take advantage of that option.
So was I wrong last year? Honestly, I’m still not sure. And the situation is complicated by the other options available. Cristman is like Alan Gordon without the charm. Barrett mostly seems to earn the nickname Nathan gave him: barnmisser. Lopez has some amazing skills, but doesn’t seem to be able to follow through with the final touch yet. So what does that leave? Magee? Don’t get me wrong. I still consider myself a Mageek. But I came to that state as a result of his impressive midfield play. Coming from the wing, he adds a nice attacking flare and really helps to pressure the opposing D. But, of course, that’s the position I just got through saying seemed to suit Donovan.
With the introduction of Keane, the Galaxy finally have potent players at every position and I finally feel we are a team that could challenge for MLS cup. But the mix of quality we have continues to be a puzzle that doesn’t quite fit together. On last week’s Corner of the Galaxy podcast (http://nasn.tv/category/corner-of-the-galaxy/), Dave Denholme argued for pairing Donovan with Keane. While that’s a tempting option to me, I still think we are better off with Donovan in the mid. So what to do?
Here’s an option that’ll never happen: play a 4-2-3-1. Make Keane the lone striker with Donovan as an attacking mid. Put Beckham and Magee on the wings. Put Juninho back as a playmaking midfielder and Birchall back to “Kovalenko” anyone who tries to get through the line. Okay, Arena will never do it. But it just might be the solution…. Seems to work okay for Man City.
So what do you think? When you peer into Landon Donovan’s soul, what kind of player do you see? Striker? Midfielder? Striker? Midfielder? Where would you play him? And what formation would you use to solve the midfield puzzle?